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CTO's State Of The Industry Conference Hits Home Run In Martinique

The Caribbean Tourism Organization held its annual State of the Industry Conference on the beautiful island of Martinique October 16-18.  The conference, which CTO Chairperson Beverly Nicholson-Doty referred to as "the annual temperature check for our tourism sector," was hosted by the Hon. Karine Roy-Camille, Martinique Tourism Commissioner, at the impressive Madiana Convention Centre.  The theme for this year's conference was "Perfecting the Experience, Delivering Authenticity."  Host hotels for the conference were the La Pagerie and Hotel Bakoua, both located in the south of Martinique and a 30-minute ferry ride from the convention center.

After two days of pre-conference activities that included board meetings, executive committee discussions, press briefings, and a workshop for ministers, commissioners and directors of tourism, the formal program got underway on Wednesday night, October 16 at the opening ceremony.  Nicholson-Doty set the tone for the conference with her opening remarks when she stated "'One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean' cannot be just a feel good slogan or a tagline that we embrace when we meet a few times a year but it must be the strategic marketing reality of our region if we are to survive the aggressive marketing efforts of major destinations around the world.  

"While the Caribbean is blessed by a bounty of natural resources," she continued, "we are in no short supply of creativity, energy, vision and enthusiasm. Yet, I remain concerned.  Why?" she asked.  "Because as a region we are great debaters … we're big on lyrics … but slow on implementation.

Nicholson-Doty went on to urge attendees to "seize the moment" and move forward with long held plans to develop a viable regional marketing effort for the Caribbean, support for which she emphasized, was not "charity," but rather "a solid investment in the economic development of our countries."

A welcome reception followed the opening ceremony, closing out the night with delectable food offerings and tons of networking opportunities.

Delegates showed up early the next morning to hear keynote speaker Daniel Levine, executive director of the Avant-Guide Institute, make his presentation "Delivering More Perfect Visitor Experiences - How to Turn Authenticity Into Greater Visitor Numbers."  The first General Session - entitled "Delivering Authenticity: The Truth About Product Differentiation" - which followed the same theme, offered up anthropologist Dr. Lennox Honychurch as lead presenter and moderator, supported by a distinguished panel including Robert "Bob" Hathaway, vice president of the Caribbean Marine Association, Barry Brown, senior director of sales, AFAR Magazine, and Celia Sainville, site administrator for Habitat Clement.

Other sessions covered a wide range of topics, with enticing titles like "It's the Experience Stupid" (moderated by Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace), "The Realities of Intra-Caribbean Tourism. And Who Gets It," and "There's An App For That! Using Technology to Improve Your Bottom Line."  But inarguably, the general session entitled "Fasten your Seat Belts," which explored the challenges of providing convenient, affordable and reliable air service to and within the Caribbean region was the most spirited and thought provoking of all.  Lead presenter and moderator Michael Lum's remarks and excellent power point presentation underscored the many challenges facing the Caribbean that must be addressed to achieve the level of airlift needed to sustain a robust tourism product in the region.

As in past years, the highlight of the conference was the Caribbean Tourism Youth Congress, which was facilitated by Bonita Morgan, director of Resource Mobilization and Development for CTO.  Fourteen young junior ministers and directors of tourism, representing member nations had to respond to several questions in an allotted period of time, and were judged on both the content of their answers and their delivery.  The first place prize went to Neila Jones of Nevis, who won an Apple iPad as a prize.  Second place went to Renita Shirnauth of St. Lucia, while Annick Bedford, also from St. Kitts & Nevis, picked up the third place prize.

Over 300 delegates attended this year's event, with the 2014 conference being hosted by St. Thomas and slated for October as well.

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