Monday 3 August, 2020

Hoteliers want transportation solutions to boost intra-regional travel

As the role of Caribbean travellers in resuscitating the tourism industry in the region continues to be discussed, some hoteliers agree that the main challenge is air-transportation - flight fees and taxes.

Speaking at a Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s webinar on the role of the hotel sector in aiding the revival of the tourist industry, Karolin Troubetzkoy, Executive Director, Marketing and Operations of Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resorts, St Lucia, suggested that a private/public sector group be created to look at the issue of regional transportation immediately.

The former President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) gave the example of AMG (Airline Management Group) who is trying to create a travel bubble with Grenada, St Lucia and Dominica with an agreement from the respective Governments to reduce fees on tickets.

“We need to work fast on a solution. In the Eastern Caribbean, this connectivity is a lifeline, not just for travel but also trade and the answer will not just be for aircraft but for ferries,” she said.

Josef Forstmayr, Managing Director, Round Hill Hotel and Villas, and also a former President of the CHTA, agreed that while Caribbean nationals are a very important segment of the visitor percentage, transportation is the problem.

“Our Government has created bubble countries and all of CARICOM are part of the bubble because all of you guys did a fantastic job controlling the virus. So yes, we will not test you, we will welcome you without testing and going through the border protocols but on the other hand, it is a question of how do I get there. I cannot swim so I have to fly through the United States and the United States do not provide you with an in-transit policy so you have to land in the United States and you become infected from a policy point of view,” he said.

He revealed that his hotel is looking to partner with private jets to transport visitors from bubble countries but that is costly.

He said in Jamaica, aside from the Caribbean nationals, they are focused on domestic tourism.

“We have a lot of well to do Jamaicans who would travel abroad in the summer, and this summer they will use the guest houses and hotels,” he said, noting that there are incentives from villas, Airbnbs and hotels to attract domestic tourists.

Jeanette Bonet, Chairman of the Curaçao Tourism Development Foundation, suggested hotels come together to create rates for the region.

“Why don’t we go back to basics, go back to the drawing board and look at the people in this moment who can’t afford to go on a vacation because they have been working in the hotel sector out there, give them an opportunity for a staycation in their country or an island nearby,” she said.

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Asked if the situation is disadvantageous for small properties, Forstmayr said no.

“From a Jamaican perspective, especially the small hotels that will be at the forefront because it is easier for them to adhere to protocols, they don’t have to invest in technology, all they need is lots of spray bottles and wipes and the team ready to ensure that the guests they have to observe the social distancing rules and sanitisation rules,” he said, noting that in Jamaica a lot of the smaller properties are not all-inclusive therefore offering a good price point for locals.

Troubetzkoy said in St Lucia there is a phased re-opening so smaller hotels are at a disadvantage since they are not open in Phase one.

She said, however, that they do not want to mix staycations and caribcations with overseas travel to mitigate any risk

“Staycations could really play a role right now to help the smaller properties get some economic activity,” she said, noting that in the long run smaller, boutique hotels will be really popular.

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