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Thursday,  June 13, 2024 4:33 AM 

Barbados goes big for SOTIC

Barbados goes big for SOTIC
Richard Sealy, CTO Chairman and Minister of Tourism for Barbados; Hugh Riley, ‎Secretary General & CEO ‎of CTO; William “Billy” Griffith, ‎CEO of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. & Peter Mayers, director of Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. (Canada)

Last week, the majority of visitors to the Hilton Barbados Resort were in pursuit of the usual things – sun, surf and, of course, rum punch.

But a select group of travel professionals – many of whom represent the Caribbean's various and ever-evolving tourism industry – had different goals for their stay (although rum punch still played a considerable role).

Approximately 500 travel and tourism professionals, students, media and delegates gathered at the Hilton Barbados Resort for the Caribbean's annual State of the Travel Industry Conference (SOTIC), a three-day programme comprised of panel discussions, lectures, and keynote speakers.

The event opened on Sept. 14 with a series of notes from Hugh Riley, secretary general & CEO, Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and CTO Chairman and Minister of Tourism for Barbados, Richard Sealy – both of whom jointly enforced the theme of the 2016 conference: "Honouring our legacy: defining our future" by encouraging attendees to learn from the past as the trade continues to plan ahead.

"We have come a long way," Sealy said during his address, which included notes on overseas competition, synergy between visitor and resident expectations, and the sharing economy – all topics to be expanded upon throughout the conference.

"We have tourists now who are more curious, and who want a more local experience. So, we must adapt to changing consumer behaviours."

Sealy noted that although competition throughout warm climate destination is indeed getting more intense, the Caribbean remains strong in its incoming visitors, with 2016 forecast to succeed its record numbers of 28.7 million visitors in 2015, with 30 million visitors by the end of 2016.

The conference, appropriately hosted by Barbados as it nears its 50th anniversary of independence, had strong support from both the accommodation and aviation sectors, with Adam Stewart, deputy chairman and CEO at Sandals Resorts International, and Craig Landry, president of Air Canada Leisure Group both attending as keynote speakers.

Richard Sealy, CTO chairman and Minister of Tourism for Barbados

Stewart opened the conference’s first morning with insights on the Caribbean’s future, encouraging creative solutions to the issues facing evolving travel styles, real estate development and the Caribbean’s “complacent” distinction as a beach destination.

“Sitting on a beach, sipping a piña colada is nice but it no longer satisfies,” Stewart stated in his rousing speech. “There is more to our Caribbean and our visitors want to see it, experience it.”

“We must think beyond what we have traditionally valued, go beyond the coast and look inward, both literally and figuratively,” he continued. “We are on a course to outgrow our real estate… Where will development take place next? What will be the next frontier of the Caribbean experience?”

Perhaps most notable about Stewart’s candid and forthright address was his call for a “roll-up-your-sleeves teamwork” approach between the private and public sectors of the tourism industry, accessible education for Caribbean citizens, and a move away from traditional bureaucratic practices for formality’s sake.

“While business must appreciate the very real fact that government is not a for-profit enterprise, governments must also acknowledge that business thrives on innovation and efficiency,” he said. “Overregulation, systematic bureaucracy and complacency of attitude should be made remnants of an irrelevant past.”

On the second day, Landry took the stage to provide a succinct review on the goals and developments of Air Canada Leisure Group, in particular changes in booking, dynamic packaging and international growth.

"Part of the reason why I'm here today is because Air Canada loves the Caribbean," he told the assembled, pointing out that Air Canada has been servicing the Caribbean since 1948, and has seen a capacity increase in the region of 37 per cent over the past four years.

Landry also made note of the Caribbean's own development, crediting the millennial market for an increase in more exploratory travel, new airports in Antigua, Nassau and Turks and Caicos for providing an enhanced tourism experience, and its own recent addition of Curaçao as a destination for increasing Canada's exposure to the Caribbean's offerings.

Among SOTIC’s many newsworthy items, Bahamas Tourism Minister Obie Wilchcombe was elected as the new chairman of the CTO during the organization’s annual general meeting on Sept. 15, replacing Richard Sealy for a second stint as CTO chairman (Wilchcombe originally served in 2002) for a two-year term.

Another highlight of the SOTIC conference was the inaugural Barbados Tourism Media Awards, which saw a significant representation of – and prize-winning by – Canadian journalists, including PAX's own Britney Hope. The event, created to recognize the media's work in promoting Barbados as a destination, was a great success, and is intended to return again next year.

The conference came to a close on Sept. 16 with an event at the Concord Museum, and included tours of the famous Concord aircraft, an adventurously international menu of food and drink, and a succession of live music which ensured, in no uncertain terms, that the Barbados-hosted SOTIC 2016 will not soon be forgotten.

SOTIC 2017 is scheduled to take place in Grenada, with the date still yet to be determined.