Hoteliers, bankers agree lack of unity hurts Caribbean
Hoteliers, bankers agree lack of unity hurts Caribbean
18 MAY 2018 9:00 AM

Hotel News Now recaps the opening day of the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit.

MIAMI—What affects one island or nation in the Caribbean affects the entire region. That was the recurring message from the first day of the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit Thursday.

Multiple speakers discussed the lingering effects of the hurricanes that severely damaged portions of the Caribbean in 2017, noting that the wider perception among international travelers was that Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused widespread havoc across the region.

Several panelists and speakers noted that belief is simply not reality, but they must contend with that perception either way. While news reports have centered on things like devastation in areas like Puerto Rico, that island now has a majority of its rooms in operation, according to sources, and several other areas of the Caribbean were untouched by the storms.

During a panel, Grace Bay Resorts CEO Mark Durliat said that many people simply don’t understand the geography of the Caribbean, leading to mass confusion about what parts of the region remained open for business.

“There can be a storm in Jamaica and people will get calls about it in Barbados,” he said. “It happens to me. People could see something on CNN about something in Aruba; I’m in Turks and Caicos, and they’ll ask if it’s OK. It’s 700 miles away, but the perception is everybody got decimated.”

One of the most persistent discussion points was the need for more unified messaging among Caribbean nations, which could include more international marketing for the Caribbean and its various destination markets and comprehensive communication strategies for future emergencies like the recent hurricanes.

Frank Comito, CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, said his organization is helping to build the systems to do just that and has made significant progress in doing so in the response to recent storms.

He noted that the individual stakeholders in the region must acknowledge the widespread perception that the region is viewed as a cohesive whole by the traveling public, and in turn, should do a better job marketing it as such.

“The Caribbean is a brand whether we like it or not,” he said.

Despite all the talk about recent calamity, sources said interest for investment and financing is still high in the region.

“Banks have never been more confident (in the region), or at least they’ve certainly not been for the last 10 years, and the (non-bank lenders) are more confident than at the equivalent time last year,” said Gary Brough, managing director for KPMG.

Comito noted that the overall region’s recovery arrived quicker than expected, starting in late 2017 and continuing through the first few months of 2018.

“It was a good year despite the hardships and challenges,” he said. “And the trend line exceeded expectations. Late in the year, we wouldn’t have expected it to be as good as it turned out.”

Comito noted that the nations in the Caribbean are collectively the “most tourism-dependent area in the world,” so a quick rebound and a favorable long-term outlook are key for the region’s overall economic health.

Sources said one consistent point of frustration around the region is having to wait for insurance payouts related to the recent storms, and insurance is expected to get more difficult in the region as banks ask for more robust policies and some insurers are considering moving out of the Caribbean.

Photo of the day

The first day of the Caribbean Hotel & Resort Investment Summit brought together a panel of Caribbean tourism officials, including former cricketer turned Anguillan government official Cardigan Connor. (Photo: Sean McCracken)

Quote of the day
“There’s not more or less money available today than two weeks before the hurricane.”
—Mark Durliat, Grace Bay Resorts CEO, on the lack of change in financing and availability of capital in the Caribbean in spite of recent hurricanes.

Slide of the day

(Slide: STR)

Data from Hotel News Now’s parent company STR shows that Turks and Caicos leads the region in rates, as several hoteliers speaking during the first day of the country mentioned the British territory has been the model for recovery following Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

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