By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe said yesterday that the Christie administration is working with the Cuban government to develop a “multi-destination” travel arrangement with the Bahamas, emphasising he was not concerned about losing stopover visitors to its western neighbour.
Promising that the Bahamas will “still have its market”, Mr Wilchcombe said he was more concerned about issues such as marketing and ensuring a superior tourism product.
He was speaking after a newly-released Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) paper described Cuba’s eventual opening as “the biggest and most disruptive pebble to be dropped into the Caribbean pool in 50 years”.
The CHTA paper, in particular, warns that Cuba’s proximity to the US will act as an immediate draw for Florida’s ‘impulse’ traveller market, which currently gravitates to the Bahamas for short-term stopover vacations.
“As it relates to the state of Florida as a source market, Cuba’s location will draw the attention of those travellers who have traditionally travelled spontaneously and impulsively to the Bahamas, a country which has relied on Florida for generating over 20 per cent of its arrivals for some time,” the CHTA paper warned.
Mr Wilchcombe, however, downplayed those fears yesterday. He told Tribune Business: “Cuba right now attracts three visitors. Many of their visitors come in from Canada and Europe.
“In fact, if you ask the Cuban Minister of Tourism ‘where is your market’, he would say Canada number one, two and three. In the Bahamas we will have the Canadians and we will still have our market.
“The truth is we are working with the Cuban government, and the Cuban minister in particular, to develop multi-destination travel for the visitor, where the visitor can spend time in Cuba and then come to the Bahamas. We have spoken to them. In fact, they have 13 offices in Europe and we are going to work with them.”
Mr Wilchcombe said that, ultimately, the aim is to increase visitors to the Caribbean. “It’s about the business coming to the Caribbean,” he added.
“Cuba will benefit, we will benefit and other Caribbean countries will benefit. I’m not concerned about loss. I’m concerned about our marketing, our relationships and ensuring that we have a product that we can offer to the world and that the world will continue to come,” said Mr Wilchcombe.
“Cuba will be a participant and it is now. We don’t seem to appreciate that they have three million visitors now but they will get more American visitors. We will always have Americans coming. Our proximity lends to it. We have a reputation and certain things in place. We just have to improve upon our product.”