By RICARDO WELLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE belief that Cuba’s re-emergence in the North American travel market could infringe on The Bahamas’ visitor numbers may be a rush to judgment, travel and leisure experts have warned during the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) Caribbean Travel Marketplace conference.
Specialists polled by The Tribune indicated that as a result of the two countries dissimilar products “each would operate on its own unique end of the destination spectrum”.
Robert Curley, About.com’s Caribbean Travel Expert, told The Tribune the “multi-destination, private island experience” has long taken the Bahamas beyond its competition in the Caribbean travel market.
Mr Curley insisted that Cuba’s tourism profile, as constituted, offers potential visitors an experience completely different to the Bahamas, specifying the country’s distinctive history, culture and geography.
“The profile of a traveller coming to The Bahamas guarantees their visit to The Bahamas with or without Cuba being in the market,” he said. “The travellers expected to make the trip to Cuba, in terms of North American travellers, are those persons in search of that nostalgic destination. You can expect those historians that have heard the alluring stories of that destination, persons uniquely interested in that culture.
“On the other side of that discussion, you have The Bahamas with its lovely beaches, luxury resorts and that gives it its share of the market.”
However, Mr Curley said while The Bahamas has worked to guarantee its market share year after year, there remains “a great deal” that still needs to be done to sustain the country’s success within the Caribbean region. He implored local tourism officials to widen the marketing profile of individual islands of The Bahamas, insisting that each island has something special to offer, a story to tell.
“That’s the special thing about The Bahamas. Each island is special in its own regard, but visitors in the (United States) only know Nassau. When they hear Bahamas, they automatically think Nassau and associate the destination with the stories shared about Nassau. Persons that have travelled here before have heard of Bimini, of the Exumas and all of the others. It’s those new visitors; they need to hear more about the multi-destination aspect of The Bahamas.”
An study carried out by Travelzoo.com, a global media commerce company that markets travel deals, revealed that while Cuba is viewed as the most “sought after destination in the Caribbean region”, an increase in “weekend escapes” does bode well for a country like The Bahamas.
“We have seen an increase in the number of travellers willing to travel to the region,” a Travelzoo.com spokesperson said. “Persons are willing to spend the money to come to these destinations if they view them as safe and fun. The findings across the board is that The Bahamas and Cuba globally are really the most universally popular destinations across the board this year. When we ask our audience why they want to go to Cuba and why they think about Cuba in the (United States), it’s really for different reasons than the other Caribbean destinations. So we are seeing them talk about history and culture and the desire to learn more about that aspect of Cuba.”
Moreover, Travelzoo.com reported that The Bahamas has secured itself as the only travel destination beyond Cuba in the region to secure positive searches in all of the website’s search categories.
Travelzoo.com clients have marked high on the Caribbean countries as potential 2016 travel spots. Caribbean countries are now being ranked as a high as Hawaii for the first time ever and Canadians have selected a Caribbean top three for the first time.
The Ministry of Tourism has been working to arrange an agreement between Cuba and The Bahamas to market the two countries as a multi-destination travel experience to Caribbean visitors. Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe has suggested in recent months that the decision by the United States to normalise its relationship with Cuba after more than 50 years has been viewed by many as a significant threat to The Bahamas’ tourism sector.
However, he maintained that his ministry has continued to view the announcement as an “opportunity to better The Bahamas’ tourism product”, citing “two for the price of one” as a mantra since last August.
“When I was there earlier this year, we discussed multi-destination marketing so that we will benefit from our relationship with Cuba,” Mr Wilchcombe said.
“We have sustained a relationship with Cuba all these decades and long held the view that the embargo should have been lifted. They have informed us that they will work closely with us.”