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CTO's 1st Leadership Strategy Conference A Rousing Success
 
 
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the Caribbean’s official tourism development agency, held it first Leadership Strategy Conference from October 8-11 at the Hilton Barbados. The gathering of government officials, industry professionals and media from around the world brought together the leadership of both tourism and tourism-related interests to plan strategies for the continued growth of visitation to the region.

The conference included an exciting range of open and frank discussion sessions with key decision makers in the airline, airport, marketing, research and supplier sectors, as well as the election of new CTO officers and board members.  The Honourable Freundal Stuart, Acting Prime Minister of Barbados, set the tone for the CTO Leadership Strategy Conference, highlighting the importance of international travel, improving aviation between the islands and the importance of emerging markets, like Brazil.


It was just one of the many thoughtful addresses by political leaders from the region. The Hon. Richard Sealy, MP, Minister of Tourism for Barbados and the Hon. Richard Skerritt, Minister of Tourism and International Transport, St. Kitts & Nevis and new Chair of CTO, offered a warm welcome to more than 300 delegates at the opening ceremony of the CTO's first-ever Leadership Strategy Conference in Barbados. Both leaders challenged delegates to use this "golden opportunity" to reflect and chart a new course forward for the Caribbean tourism sector. With the backdrop of economic recession, they stressed the importance of addressing the key issues shaping the future of tourism: from aviation and international transport to evolving consumer expectations.

This "new normal" demands that the CTO's more than 30 member nations collaborate and take full advantage of new tourism opportunities. Offering a warm welcome to British Airways CEO Willie Walsh, both Minister Sealy and Senator Skerritt stressed the many opportunities to collaborate over the two-day conference and take full advantage of this rich roster of speakers and sessions. Walsh, who served as keynote speaker at the opening ceremony, spoke at length about the airline’s long history of service to the region, as well as the strong cultural ties between the UK and the Caribbean, the social/economic benefits of aviation, and the environmental impact aviation has on society.

Other speakers included Pierre Gervois, CEO of China Elite Focus Limited, who offered the provocative presentation Targeting China’s New Millionaires and Upscale Travelers; Tom Buncl e, managing director, Yellow Railroad, whose topic was Destination Branding; and David Redekop, principal research associate, Conference Board of Canada, who spoke on the subject It’s All in the Numbers. Lessons to be Learnt. Using Tourism Data to Track Trends and Influence Strategy. Additionally, members of the media attended a series of press briefings, where delegations of participating member nations offered up-to-date information about tourism-related developments in their respective countries.

  

Prior to the conference, the CTO selected St. Kitts and Nevis for the chairmanship of the organization for the next two years. Following a vote by the CTO’s Council of Ministers, Sen. Skerritt succeeded the Hon. John Maginley of Antigua & Barbuda as the organization’s chairman. “These are challenging times for tourism around the world, but no sector is more critical to our region’s economic future,” Sen. Skerritt said. “I believe that with the right leadership strategy I am confident that we can achieve our goal of establishing the Caribbean as the world’s premier warm-weather travel destination, with genuinely caring people and world class products” The vote took place on the eve of the CTO’s first-ever Leadership Strategy Conference, which brought together delegates from more than 30 countries to hear from global tourism leaders and discuss some of the key issues facing this critical sector. Sessions at the conference include security, taxes, new market development, aviation, destination branding and the growing use of social media to build a tourism brand.

“I am honored to have been elected to serve as the new Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, and I look forward to working with all member countries and stakeholders to accomplish our goals over the course of my term in office,” Sen. Skerritt said during his remarks at the opening session.  Though brimming with optimism over the future of tourism to the Caribbean, he made it clear that much work needs to be done. “It is no secret that the world has changed significantly over the past two years as a result of global economic conditions,” Sen. Skerritt continued. “While we have proven in the past that Caribbean tourism is resilient and that we, collectively, can rise to meet challenges and continue to be one of the world’s leading tourism areas, we know it will take a well thought strategy to regain and surpass the arrival levels we were attracting in 2007 and 2008.



“The good news is that stopover travel is beginning to rebound in our region, albeit more slowly than predicted from some markets. And fortunately for many of our destinations, cruise lines have continued to arrive at our shores with full cabins even at the height of the economic recession. “However, it is a different visitor who is arriving in the Caribbean now than in the past. This visitor is more demanding, expecting maximum value for money, and is more discerning, seeking a more spiritually fulfilling vacation experience that includes more interaction with local people and a deeper connection with our land and culture. Our visitor also has access to many more warm weather vacation options than ever before.

“The Caribbean brand is well known throughout the world for pristine beaches, wonderful weather and our welcoming people. But we still must deliver service on a world-class level if we are to compete effectively with worldwide destinations. To be successful and competitive in this “new normal” environment requires a captivating and safe destination experience, convenient and affordable airlift, a more sophisticated tourism infrastructure, and a marketing strategy that is carefully targeted, cost-effective, and closely aligned with the authentic product offerings of each of our individual destinations,” Sen. Skerritt said. At the closing press conference Chairman Skerritt offered his priorities for the next two years. “This conference – and the counsel of my colleagues, has reinforced my sense of the perspectives and priorities I will bring to my new responsibilities as chairman.” The first priority, he explained is the advocacy imperative – “It’s clear that advocacy must be one of the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s most important functions.” Secondly, he emphasized the service imperative – “The Caribbean must sharpen its reputation for service – and great visitor experiences.” And finally, he rolled out the marketing imperative – “Marketing begins with understanding our visitor – and making decisions that are driven data.”



Before the conference began, Media Day was hosted by the Barbados Tourism Authority, during which members of the press were treated to an Island Safari Tour. The day started at a breakfast press conference with remarks by Minister Sealy, followed by an exhilarating journey aboard rugged Land Rovers, where professional guides entertained and informed their charges about the folklore, culture and history of the island. The tour included visits to a number of historical points of interest, an off-road excursion, shopping with street vendors, and numerous photo ops. Media Day ended with a dinner at Oistins Fish Fry, a must-see attraction, where hundreds of locals and visitors converge each Friday and Saturday nights for the best local food and the sounds of island music filling the air.
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