Without as much as a warning the world has come to what seems to be a complete stand still. One minute we are making travel plans for the future and the next we find ourselves stuck at home making dance videos on Tik Tok, lip synching to lyrics like “bored in the house, in the house bored”.
The Coronavirus pandemic has touched us all and no industry seems to have been harder hit than the travel industry. Planes have been grounded and the sky is eerily quiet without the constant sound of jet engines flying over. Cruise ships are sailing around empty, without a next port of call and hotels and resorts have sent their employees home in an attempt to save their empires.
Unemployment rates sky rocket, the have-nots go from having very little to having nothing and those in the tourism industry find themselves in unchartered waters. After all, tourism and travel go hand in hand. Without travel, there isn’t much tourism. This is something the Caribbean islands are all too familiar with and this pandemic has gotten tourist boards all over the Caribbean scratching their heads, asking the same question: Now what?
We are all in the same boat, no matter how you twist it or turn it. While some islands have already declared an end to COVID-19 transmissions, others are seeing an increase in confirmed cases. Save to say, this is nowhere from being over, especially with borders remaining closed for the time being. The travel industry and tourism all over the world has changed, and so must our marketing campaigns.
But being the glass is half full kinda gyal, I see this as a great opportunity to put our heads together and come up with new, unique and out-of-the-box ideas to revamp our most valued industry. This is the time to work together, to form allegiances with not only the other islands, but also with the often forgotten stakeholders in tourism, Caribbean travel bloggers, writers and influencers.
So, I reached out to some of my favorite colleagues and friends in the Caribbean Travel world to share some of their thoughts and ideas on the current status quo.
Please note that the following are ideas and thoughts based on the personal opinions and situations of each person, who have so graciously agreed to be a part of this blog post. All I ask is that you take it for what it is, free advice on what to do now that tourism lies dormant and what we could concentrate on once it awakens from its beauty sleep.
Lebawit “Lily” Girma is blogger at Sunandstilettos.com as well as an award-winning writer and photographer with a focus mostly on sustainable tourism and culture and adventure travel. Her articles and photos have been published on CNN and in Sierra, Delta Sky, Lonely Planet, and more. She is the author of guidebooks Moon Belize and Moon Dominican Republic where she current;y resides.
For the past ten years, I’ve pushed for and encouraged a more sustainable kind of tourism in the Caribbean. I’ve encouraged readers to put their tourism dollars into local businesses and connect with communities as much as possible. That’s because I’ve witnessed the power of tourism funds to propel a community or family forward, and help them reach economic independence and self-sufficiency beyond tourism.
With this current global pandemic and the complete stop of tourism in the Caribbean, it goes without saying that there will be major changes to be considered. It’s a time tourism boards should use wisely to step back and reflect, to reposition their respective brands and messaging. It’s a time as well for governments to begin reinventing not just tourism but also the other industries that relate to it.
It’s a complex topic. Primarily, I believe there is a need to be more inclusive across sectors. To discuss ways to integrate community tourism, for one, into the overall destination’s tourism marketing plan. To train communities in tourism but also widening the net to include agriculture or gardening training projects to enhance food security while fighting climate change, for example. Training in technology and entrepreneurship. All of these mesh with tourism. It’s a giant task but focusing on people first would help each Caribbean destination stand out by focusing on its specific assets – what differentiates it from the rest of the region – while helping communities diversify and reduce their complete dependence on tourism in times of crises. We can’t keep relying on foreign corporations or food imports; we’ve just witnessed again how dangerous that is, when they leave with their dollars and their employees are sent home.
Competition for travelers is going to get even more cut throat once things get back on track, and it’s an improved regional unity as well as the uniqueness of each destination that will help the region as a whole thrive.
So we need to get creative and rapidly expand sustainable ways to explore our region, which begins with each destination looking deeply into its strengths and weaknesses. Let’s bring more expertise to the table as well, from various creative fields and people who truly know the destination. In an ideal world, we’d use this time to figure out how to get off the marketing hamster wheel of a Caribbean that is solely an all inclusive or cruise escape.
As a travel journalist I plan to continue creating bridges with colleagues across the region to share better insight on the various destinations, and I plan to continue telling stories of the Caribbean that give voice to immersive, sustainable experiences and community initiatives – the ones that are genuinely about people and that showcase the essence of each Caribbean destination.
Mariah Moyle is a yoga teacher, Energy Medicine practitioner, wellness blogger at Mariahmoyle.com and the author of Moon Bahamas travel book. She is based in The Bahamas
My dream is to see more wellness-based travel.
I’ve always had a dream of the Bahamas becoming a wellness destination and I have a feeling that when people start traveling again, a new idea of conscious travel is going to be implemented. Instead of sitting on the beach and drinking cocktails and over-indulging, people may begin to seek out wellness vacations even more. Wellness vacations and retreats have become increasingly popular in recent years, but I feel like it may be important to begin to really capitalize on the concept of optimal health for virus protection, now and for the foreseeable future.
I would love to see more education on how you can take care of yourself to prevent disease, firstly starting with us islanders. There is no reason each island can’t be growing their own organic food sources instead of leaning on fried food and peas n rice, which over the long term have created an extreme rate of diabetes and heart disease here in the Bahamas. Farm to table dining at hotels and restaurants (travelers and visitors love eating and drinking local), wellness programs, workshops, yoga and healing offered at hotels, etc.
I don’t believe the fear of the virus is going to go away anytime soon. So I feel like a very important marketing strategy is the concept of taking care of your body to support optimal health and a peak performing immune system to stave off this virus and potential future viruses, especially when traveling. If we feel confident in maintaining optimal health, there will be less fear of travel and catching a virus. There are many options with this route if tourism boards get creative.
Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon is a travel writer, editor and Caribbean travel expert with articles in magazines like travel + Leisure, Essence, The Telegraph, Islands and more. Her blog is Jetsetsarah.com. Sarah is based in Miami, Florida.
Keep travelers informed.
I think its important for destinations to let travelers know what they’re doing right now (and will do, in the future) to keep their citizens and visitors safe. This way visitors will have a sense of confidence that they’ll be safe when they return.
The next priority should be to maintain a steady stream of inspirational content, so that people know what islands have to offer. Tone is very important here. It’s not about forcing people to travel before they’re ready. It’s about inspiring them to consider a particular destination once they feel comfortable traveling again.
Asma Ali is an independent creative director and travel ad woman that has traveled extensively within the Caribbean region and outside of it. She is based in Trinidad & Tobago.
Sun Sea and Sand tourism in the way the Caribbean knows it, will undoubtedly change post pandemic.
Panic free acknowledgement of this combined with creative, solution-oriented, opportunity-invoked responses are what’s necessary for our whole region.
It’s not about individual markets anymore. It’s OUR Caribbean and languages, governing styles or the amount of other resources we have don’t matter. NOW is an opportune time for an ‘informally formal’ collective of Caribbean-based tourism advocates to “zoomstorm’.
We don’t actually know IF travel will become a real possibility anytime soon. That’s the hard pill to swallow.
Let’s then examine what we DO have:
- islands full of socially distant, closed bordered people
- People who have seen the inside of their homes for a long period of time with (or without) quarantine buddies)
- A surge in self made chefs
- A cleaner, greener island FULL of happier wildlife (on the brink of taking over some of our homes)
- Hotels, guest houses and air b&b’s with all time low occupancy rates facing the very real threat of closure
Doesn’t one solution seem completely obvious? (providing businesses return to a form of new normal and people leave their homes again)
It’s time for a revamped, affordable movement DOMESTIC TOURISM CAMPAIGN!
Connect with Asma on Instagram
Jen Morrow is a blogger and vlogger at Jentheredonethat.com and resides in Puerto Rico
Right now is the perfect time for Caribbean Tourism Boards and travel bloggers to offer virtual tours of our beautiful beaches and rainforests, people stuck inside need a break from their four walls and what better way than the natural beauty of the Caribbean?
We can offer tantalizing lessons on the biodiversity of our islands, showcase the unique and wonderful plants and animals that inhabit our islands and ocean. Now is the time to showcase the local artists and provide a glimpse into the artistic process as they continue to create art in our current environment. We can study the distinct architecture throughout the Caribbean, including the historical influences from various cultures and environmental changes.
We can share recipes and cooking lessons to teach the skills to create our local cuisine. There is a perfect opportunity for the purchase of unique island spices and blends shipped to the door of eager foodies around the globe. Food is such an important part of travel, incorporating that unique island blend of spices into a Caribbean inspired meal can transport you back to that palm tree lined beach, if just for a moment.
These virtual experiences are a modest taste, like a virtual appetizer, to wet the appetite and prepare visitors for the main course when tourism resumes and visitors are able to have the real life experiences. Planning is half the fun, and we can inspire a deeper experience for each visit by inspiring visitors to have a deeper connection with the islands when they arrive.
Ryan VanDenabeele together with wife Crystal are Caribbean bloggers and vloggers at Caribbeancastaways.com and are based in Ft. Meyers, Florida.
The natural reaction to travel restrictions and tighter budgets is to pull back, and marketing is the first to go. It makes sense when you look at it from a high level, you can’t market travel to people who can’t travel right now. But this is the time to keep promoting and advertising your destination, even more so perhaps. All be it with a slightly different message.
Why? Because advertising noise is less and ad costs plummet. This gives those businesses or tourism boards that keep the marketing strong an opportunity to grab market share from their competition. Travel restrictions will be lifted, and when they do, people will flock to those businesses and destinations that made an impression on them during their time in quarantine. Sure, the message should be adjusted, but I believe this is the time to keep marketing your destination and showing people you care.
In saying that, I do realize not all businesses or even tourism boards can afford to keep large advertising campaigns running if money isn’t coming in. This is when you have to be clever and explore other high ROI marketing strategies. Maybe it’s building your email list, or doing live virtual tours around the destination. Maybe it’s giving away a stay once restrictions are lifted to fuel engagement. Maybe it’s building relationships with niche bloggers and influencers in order to create content with them that can be published at a date in future when things are somewhat normal again. Those are some recommendations that will help businesses and tourism boards during this time. Now is not the time to stop marketing, now is the time to change the message and keep getting out there in front of people. Keep going when others let up.
People will still be worried about the virus, so I believe that destinations and tourism businesses that go the extra mile to clean surfaces, limit large concentrations of people and advertise/market the fact that they are doing that, will win business. Maybe hotels and resorts put a 50% occupancy limit on themselves. There are lots of restrictions that can be used once travel becomes a possibility again. I don’t think it will be a complete lift of all restrictions like it was before covid-19, I think it’s going to be a gradual process. But the more a destination can do to build confidence in cleanliness and let people know they have zero cases, the more they will gain tourism market share.
Ursula Petula Barzey is the founder and digital content creator at Caribbeanandco.com and is based in London, UK.
Right now, Caribbean tourism boards need to be using their social media channels to support the message of sheltering in place to flatten the curve; also to inspire future travel by showcasing their country’s local culture, food, music, etc.
Caribbean tourism boards should think of offering tourism sector staff online access to hospitality and tourism courses, to enhance their professional skills. Beyond this, the boards should look into working with their tourism partners (hotels, local tour operators, restaurants, taxi drivers, etc.) to develop and implement new health and safety measures in anticipation of the country reopening, while updating and educating travel agents and inbound tour operators on what is happening in the country.
Finally, Caribbean tourism boards should be looking at seriously developing a more sustainable tourism product. Sustainable tourism has gotten a lot of lip service over the year, but now more than ever, its time to dust off the plans and work with stakeholders at all levels to implement. It can’t just be about chasing higher visitor numbers and promoting sun, sand and sea. The ultimate goal should be to help their respective governments leverage the brand recognition developed, by marketing their destinations to create opportunities in other industries to diversify the economy away from tourism. T
This is a must as there are bound to be future travel interruptions due to natural disasters, political instability, terrorism, financial crisis, and other viruses like COVID-19.
Elton Sint Jago is a blogger, world traveler, geography teacher, tourist guide and unofficial ambassador of Curaçao.
I would suggest we take advantage of this quiet time and offer or focus on intensive training for those working in tourism, or those who want to work in tourism. Anything that would help to improve service and standards in general.
Now is the time to do cleaning, repairs, and maintenance of areas that attract tourists, for example our downtown areas, beaches, walking trails, viewpoints etc.
It’s important to remain active on social media pages of the destination, with at least two posts a day to keep promoting your destination (make people eager to want to book immediately when the situation normalizes).
Connect with Elton on Instagram
Riselle Celestina (hey, that’s me!) I’m a travel and island blogger at Thetravelingislandgirl.com, and have collaborated with Winair Inflight Magazine, Women Who Live On Rocks, Girl Gone International, Visit St. Maarten, Mélange Magazine and more
I like to see the positive in everything and if there is one good thing that comes out of our tourism industry lying dormant at the moment is that we get to go back to the drawing table and learn from past mistakes, while coming up with new, fresh and innovative ideas to revamp the marketing of our islands, something that for some has become a little stale lately.
Travel will change. This pandemic will make sure of that. Heck, I think it has been changing for a while. Your average tourist today is not your mom and pop tourists of yonder years. Travelers are looking for more unique experiences when visiting a destination, and the Caribbean islands shouldn’t be any different.
So, here are my suggestions:
- Take this time to invest in educational programs for the community and our youth. Help the community regain their pride in our tourism product.
- Focus more on sustainable tourism. Urge the community to get involved one way or another. I can’t count how many times I’ve been asked what the best local places and activities are. Visitors are more interested in local activities and experiences and this is a great time for locals to introduce their handmade products, local tours etc. Tourist boards should be highlighting these local activities and experiences much more.
- More and more people are conscious of the damage done to our environment. Why not show off our eco-friendly attractions or products?
- Don’t ignore the solo traveler in your marketing plans.
- Make more of an effort to promote your island to regional visitors, especially in the off season. Islanders love to visit other islands. Make yours attractive to them as well.
- Do more on social media than just sharing photos by visitors who tagged your office in a post. The islands are more than just sun, sand and sea. The islands are their people as well. This is the perfect time to highlight your island’s local treasures, this includes the local hotelier, or the lady that makes her own soaps, or the fashionista that designs her own clutches, the guy on the side of the road that sells fresh coconut water and that local chef famous for his or her local dish. Do some virtual tours on the island or give some historic insights into popular buildings now that people cannot travel.
- And finally, don’t ignore your Caribbean travel bloggers and writers. We breathe, eat, sleep Caribbean. We know the islands. We are Caribbean. Who better to promote the islands than a Caribbean person or someone who has made it their niche? Don’t hire influencers based on the number of followers alone. Make sure their following fits your target demographic. Use Caribbean based influencers for a regional campaign, for example, and don’t ignore them when it comes to media trips. Caribbean influencers, writers and bloggers have a keen knowledge of promoting the Caribbean. In my case, tourism has been drilled into me from a very early age. I know the importance it plays in our economy, in our daily lives and in our livelihood.
By now we all realize that there is no such thing as going back to normal. We can only try to predict what the new normal will look like but one thing is certain, whatever our new normal will be, we better be prepared for it. No time to waste. The time to make a better Caribbean tourism product is now.
What did you think of the suggestions above? Tell us in the comments below and add some tips and ideas you think we might have missed.