Carol Hay, CTO’s Europe Director
In an exclusive interview with Caribbean News Digital, Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Europe director Carol Hay sat down with Mr. Jose Carlos de Santiago, president of the Excelencias Group and publisher-in-chief of the Excelencias Magazine, to discuss some of the most pressing issues for the region’s travel and tourism industry, including the new U.S. opening toward Cuba and the impact this move might have on the entire Caribbean area.
There is an important piece of news making headlines and the people of small Caribbean island are very worried. Do you know what the news is?
There is a lot of news. You have to realize that, when you’re speaking through the media, questions need to be specific.
The news is about Cuba.
I imagined that.
What do CTO’s small islands think about it?
Cuba is a member country of the Caribbean Tourism Organization and we’ve worked very closely with Cuba over the years. We believe that, as tourism continues to open up for Cuba, so too will the rest of the Caribbean benefit from this also. So we believe that anything that will encourage people to visit the Caribbean can be treated positively and, if visits grow for Cuba, the rest of the Caribbean will also benefit from this growth.
Can Cuba be like a point for the USA tourism market to send tourists to the Caribbean and focus the USA tourism on the Caribbean again?
Yes. We’re always looking for opportunities to increase business for all Caribbean and, if one Caribbean destination is in the news, as currently Cuba is, you find that this encourages people to find out what else does the Caribbean have to offer.
As we know, visitors have become a lot more experiential. They want experiences; they want to discover new adventures, new cultures, and Cuba will continue to do that. Cuba is a destination that has received a lot of acknowledgement for its culture, its heritage. The more their business grow, the more it will encourage people who did not consider the Caribbean before, to think what else does the Caribbean have to offer.
There’re a lot of people in North America who have not visited the Caribbean and, if Cuba is the first place they visit, it will entice them to see what else this region has to offer.
There is worry in small countries of the Caribbean in terms of the opening of Cuba. Cuba is going to be like the street that everyone wants to walk. Will they take tourists from other countries?
No, not necessarily. We don’t look at it like that. We think that, as a destination opens up, this facilitate greater airlift into the region. If more people want to visit Cuba, for example, it will bring increased airlift to the Caribbean as a whole and this airlift will also connect to other flights.
So, you have to look at the positive. When a destination opens up, any destination in the region, it brings airlift, it brings investment, it brings the media, it brings a lot of positive things to the region and, as a region, we’ve always supported each other when tourism is concerned. The Caribbean is known as one of the strongest regions in the world for working together, particularly, through the leadership of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
We feel that the growth of Cuba will be the growth of the Caribbean because it will bring more airlift, investment and visitors to the region. You find people want to travel, people want to explore.
What does the CTO need to attract the focus of the Dominican Republic and Mexico again?
Well, the Dominican Republic was a member of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, a very valuable member. They are currently not members of the CTO, but we continue to maintain a good relationship with them. The same happens with Mexico.
I believe that, as the market changes, directions change, we will always be able to sit around the table with these countries again and look at the opportunity for them to rejoin the Caribbean Tourism Organization. We live in a very dynamic world; the face of business is always changing and there are other ways in which the Dominican Republic and Mexico can fit in to work with the Caribbean.
As long as we all respect each other and appreciate each other’s cultures, the opportunity is always there to have an alliance that comes up to be members of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. We support each other in so many ways, for our culture, our heritage, gastronomy.
We’re all still part of the Caribbean and we always say that we share the sea and, therefore, the door is always open for the Dominican Republic and Mexico to work with the Caribbean Tourism Organization. As we attend events all over the world and we have the Caribbean village, they are still close by and we share the entertainment. We have worked together over the years, we know each other and we support each other because we’re all part of the Caribbean.
There are other countries like Colombia, Panama, Nicaragua and Costa Rica that are also part of the Caribbean. Do you expect them to join the CTO or is that a different Caribbean?
No, it’s not that they are a different Caribbean. Membership at that level is discussed at ministerial level. I’m sure that, if that discussion should take place that would happen between the Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Honorable Richard Sealy, and the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Hugh Riley. That’s the discussion that they would have at ministerial level if other countries wish to join the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
How about FITUR and the CTO?
The Caribbean has always had a presence at FITUR through our member countries. As for the CTO, we have been absent from FITUR for about maybe three years or so, but we’re an organization and we continue to look at the market and the feedback that we’ve had. We have been on FITUR, from the feedback that we get regarding the Spanish market, is that the economy is turning around and consumer confidence is increasing.
We thought that the time was right to return to FITUR and we’re here with a number of partners and with us is the island of the Bahamas, also Nassau paradise island is here and by the weekend we’re going to be joined by world Caribbean cruise lines.
We have to look at market trends, we have to look at market opportunities and since the Caribbean has never turned its back on the Spanish market, the opportunity has a rhythm to intensify our presence in this market and being here. We’ve had the opportunity to speak with tour operators, with the media and with all the stakeholders, and of course we’ve been meeting with our own member countries. We’ve met with Haiti, Belize, Jamaica; we met yesterday with Cuba’s minister. It’s an opportunity to talk about what’s happening in this market, the opportunities for the Caribbean and, most importantly, for the Caribbean to work together and support each other in markets where we have strong presence and in markets where some of our destinations might have a lesser known presence.
Is your stay here, this year, satisfactory?
Yes. It’s been a really good event for the Caribbean. There’s been a lot of interest in the Caribbean from the media, and we’re looking forward to the weekend when the consumers are here, so we’ll have the opportunity to huddle with them. Of course, we know that Spanish consumers are familiar with the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Venezuela and that’s fantastic because those destinations continue to pave the way for the rest of the Caribbean in this market.
Countries like Jamaica have had a strong presence here for a number of years, Haiti has also been here for several years. They have worked hard to ensure that the Caribbean has a presence in this market and we’re supporting their effort and also taking the opportunity to introduce lesser known Caribbean destinations.
When are you going to have a Caribbean village here in FITUR, as in ITB or World Travel Market?
There’s always a Caribbean presence, but the size of Caribbean village is driven by demand. If more and more of our members want to exhibit in FITUR, then we will be able to increase our presence.