Promoting Paradise at the World Travel Market
By Debbie Ransome
When the weather begins to turn and people start to dig out hats and gloves from the back of cupboards, there’s no better time for the world’s tourism and travelling dream-merchants to converge on London.
Every November, the World Travel Market (WTM) kicks off World Travel Month with a host of global tourism operators and destinations showcasing their attractions at east London’s ExCel Centre.
Even in a digital age, countries and tourism boards believe the WTM is important enough for them to lease space at the global travel fair.
And naturally, Caribbean countries, tourism boards, hotels and other travel product operators turned out to promote themselves at this year’s event, held from 4 to 7 November.
Walk past vast areas put aside for the Pacific, Africa and North America and there it is – the gateway to the Caribbean.
Here you find a two-floored Barbadian home-from-home-shaped pavilion; an L-shaped Trinidad and Tobago pavilion, complete with Caribbean Airlines branding; and a Jamaican pavilion with booths to cater to its new cover-all brand line, Get All Right.
At the global level, WTM organisers were keen to stress the message that the event was now more than a question of booking a stall and laying out your wares; it was about coming together to tackle some of the issues that plague all tourism products across the globe.
A high-profile United Nations World Travel Organisation (UNWTO) and WTM Ministers’ Summit on the second day focused on “How to bridge the gap between tourism and aviation policies” – something industry insiders feel is not happening effectively enough.
WTM officials estimate that a billion trips were taken by travellers around the world in 2012, with 55% of those journeys made by air.
However, while aviation taxes flourish, examples of joined-up travel and tourism policies are few and far between in the world.
At the summit, UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai described the aviation and tourism sectors as “unknown siblings that don’t talk to each other”.
Representing the Caribbean for this discussion was the chairman of the Council of Ministers and Commissioners of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Beverly Nicholson Doty.
She described the Caribbean’s 30 territories, operating in different languages, as providing, under the CTO, what she called a “coalition of the willing”.
She pointed out that the Caribbean had managed to join the dots for the Cricket World Cup in 2007, which proved that integrated thinking of that kind was “do-able”.
Ms Nicholson Doty also spoke out against Britain’s Air Passenger Duty (APD) imposed on the cost of flights as an example of another government’s taxation that “has an impact on the economies of our countries”.
For more on the APD facts and figures and the lobby against it, here’s Caribbean Intelligence’s March 2013 story.
In an interview with Caribbean Intelligence© during the WTM, Beverly Nicholson Doty outlined the challenges facing Caribbean tourism – from its efforts to brand itself as “one Caribbean” to the issues facing the main island-hopping airline, Liat.
“We have to recognise as a region that we are not each other’s competitors,” she said, adding that the Caribbean’s strength was “our unity”.
“The brand Caribbean means something,” she explained, telling Caribbean Intelligence© that this brand extended from Bermuda to Trinidad.
From encouraging the Diaspora to travel home and bring their children to lobbying against aviation polices such as Britain’s APD, Ms Nicholson Doty stressed the importance of accessibility and connectivity.
The joined-up travel offer of Caribbeantravel.com – a revamp of the former CTO website – was rolled out and promoted in the United States earlier in 2013 and will be further promoted in the UK and Canadian markets over the next year.
When questioned by Caribbean Intelligence© about the most obvious part of the joined-up offer – the Liat airline, which has suffered a series of PR, financial and industrial body blows in recent times – the CTO chief insisted that the carrier was a “critical component” of the “one Caribbean” package.
“I don’t believe that there won’t be a Liat,” she said when asked what would happen if the airline could no longer operate.
“Our ability to make Liat run economically sound is extremely critical for the region.”
Adding that Liat was “part of the fabric of the region”, she was adamant about the survival of the airline and its increase in strength.
Ms Nicholson Doty also wants to see Caribbean expats and their children returning home – and says Caribbean leaders should make that return as attractive as possible.
She outlined how Liat was also important for children of people from different islands, who needed to visit relatives across the Caribbean.
She also described the joined-up strategy as a way to fend off the many Caribbean replica destinations that Caribbean Intelligence© asked her about.
From the Middle East to the Far East, these new Caribbean-styled locations fill the travel pages of newspaper travel guides.
Ms Nicholson Doty said that while these destinations were “gorgeous”, they “can’t replicate what is unique and authentic”, she said, pointing to the Caribbean’s people, music and food as providing the real experience.
Back at the pavilion exhibition spaces, the tourism officials unveiled strong batting line-ups to promote their products.
As its ambassadors, Trinidad and Tobago presented cricket legend Brian Lara, former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke and Eastenders soap opera actor Rudolph Walker.
And that was just for day one.
Tobago officials outlined new hotels, new property developments and new programmes, such as the sports tourism-pitched “stay and play with Dwight Yorke”, which brings together golf, football and other sports on Trinidad’s lush sister island.
In the Jamaican pavilion, officials unveiled a new brand identity, swapping Jamaica’s well-known One Love campaign for “Jamaica – Get All Right”, with the tagline “Once you go you know”.
The campaign plays to what officials describe as a range of visitor activities, from nature and activities to culture, food and romance, based on the idea that while you go to other venues for various elements (romance, excitement, etc), you get it all right in Jamaica.
Jamaican marketing officials wasted no time after the WTM, unveiling the world’s largest stress ball with their “Get All Right” logo in New York on 12 November, alongside the roll-out of their US campaign.
A tourist in paradise
While Jamaica and Trinidad have spent large amounts on brand positioning, other, smaller territories have had brand fame thrust upon them.
The tiny French Caribbean overseas territory of Guadeloupe has usually pitched its product at French and Canadian tourists.
However, because of the popularity of the quirky BBC TV murder mystery Death in Paradise, which is filmed in Guadeloupe and has been aired over the last couple of years in the depths of the British winter, some Britons have discovered this French territory.
The small WTM Guadeloupe exhibition space consisted of two tables and a chair, dwarfed by the larger Caribbean exhibition pavilions around it.
Officials outlined to Caribbean Intelligence© the changes coming for the Guadeloupe Islands Tourist Board as UK families have arrived on the islands not only for holidays, but also with an interest in buying property.
The board has been quick to respond and already taken over two groups of UK journalists to Guadeloupe to view the place where Death in Paradise is filmed.
Caribbean Intelligence© understands that the French government is also putting money into grants for other filming and for a cinema office in Guadeloupe.
An English version of the islands’ tourism website VisitGuadeloupe.co.uk will be launched for the first time in December 2013, alongside a holiday competition featuring a PR still from the BBC programme.
“We were very much satisfied with the publicity,” a modest Guadeloupe tourist board official told Caribbean Intelligence©.
And the Guadeloupe-British love affair is set to be reignited with the return of the Death in Paradise series in winter 2013.
The week after the World Travel Market took place, lead actor Ben Miller, who is preparing to relinquish the role midway through the next series, waxed lyrical about the joys of filming in Guadeloupe.
As the exhibition centre took down its display areas and the tourism officials started to fly home, Ben Miller’s comments about Guadeloupe on BBC Breakfast television seemed set to have British tourists reaching for their French dictionaries all over again.
Now that’s publicity you just can’t buy.