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Caribbean countries discuss German region tourism in Berlin forum

Few flights to smaller Caribbean islands hampers German tourism growth; D.R., Cuba attract the most


March 31, 2005
Copyright © 2005 CARIBBEAN BUSINESS. All Rights Reserved.

The diversity of the Caribbean’s tourism product and how the region can take greater advantage of the German market was the subject of discussion during the international tourism trade fair ITB Berlin 2005, March 11 to 15 in Berlin.

The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and Messe Berlin, the trade fair organizers, joined forces to present the forum "Discover Diversity, New Paths to the Caribbean," focusing on ideas to encourage the tourist trade between both regions, said Julia Hendry, CTO director of marketing in Europe. The ITB had an attendance of 142,351.

"Germany is the largest outbound market in the world. Germans are entitled to at least five weeks annual holiday and there is terrific potential for the Caribbean to take a bigger share of this enormous outbound market, particularly with the current strength of the euro against the dollar," Hendry observed. "In a strongly vertically integrated market, packages to Cuba and the Dominican Republic do extremely well, but we need to encourage a wider spread of business to the region."

Puerto Rico Tourism Co. stated the number of tourists from Europe staying in hotels increased by 108.9% in December 2004 compared to the same month in 2003, which points to an extraordinary market growth, said Executive Director Terestella González Denton.

For calendar 2004, total tourists arriving in Puerto Rico from the German region (Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) was 5,856, evidencing an increase of 39.3% over 4,205 tourists registered in hotels in 2003, according to González Denton.

The leading tour operators participating in the Caribbean Forum agreed 2004 results exceeded expectations, although 2005 may tell a very different story.

"Once Sri Lanka is firmly back on the map, and this will happen next winter at the latest, it is going to be a huge competitor for the Caribbean," said Steffen Bohnke, managing director for the Caribbean for German travel agency Touristik Union International (TUI). "Don’t forget that lots of Germans only went to the Caribbean because they switched from Asia after [the] SARS [outbreak]. The [tourism] growth was not really based on natural demand." SARS is the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome caused by a member of the Corona virus family.

Another major damper on the Caribbean’s prospects of attracting more Germans and other European tourists is the shortage of flights to the region, especially to the smaller islands. "Access to the smaller islands is the key to future growth," said Achim Schneider, managing director of Vtours, a tour operator.

CTO Finance Director Luther Miller conceded the Caribbean region is restricted due to a lack of air links from many European cities. "No German air carrier flies daily to the Caribbean. The countries benefiting the most from German visitors are Spanish-speaking countries like the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Mexico because they have larger products. The lack of scheduled air services impacts the number of visitors we can expect," said Miller, adding, "the region wants to change this, but we don’t have the power to do so. Airlines prefer to fly to big markets like Asia and Hong Kong."

Flights to Asia are strongly supported by business travelers between Germany and Hong Kong. The Caribbean has less business and ethnic travel because the presence of Caribbean nationals in Germany is very weak, according to Miller.

Participants agreed single-destination holidays are losing ground to twin-destination packs, according to an ITB press release. "Since it is difficult to generate enough passenger demand to fill aircraft for direct flights, airlines have to do double-drops," said Simon Dorrien, passenger sales manager for Martinair, adding, "this puts our costs and, therefore, the price for passengers up."

"Germany won’t be the No. 1 or No. 2 market for the Caribbean, but it would add to the existing European market. Europe accounts for 30% of Caribbean tourism, which at present is headed by the United Kingdom (U.K.), France, and Germany, respectively," Miller explained.

Spain is the world’s second tourism destination after France, but the first out of Europe and its main markets are the U.K. and Germany.

Barbados-based CTO, with marketing operations in New York, London, and Toronto, is the Caribbean’s tourism development agency, comprised of 32 governments and a myriad of private-sector companies.

This Caribbean Business article appears courtesy of Casiano Communications.
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