Magazine Online    The Authority On African-American Conventions, Incentives, & Leisure Travel
Issue: September/October 2017
African-American Guide to Meetings, Incentives & Traveling in the Caribbean

Because there exists such a strong cultural connection between African-Americans and Caribbean people, many associations and organizations view the region as a prime meeting destination.  In fact, destinations such as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Jamaica and The Bahamas are holding out welcome hands to their African-American Brothers and sisters, not only to host their meeting groups, but to be their tourism destinations, as well.

Beverly Nicholson-Doty, Commissioner of the Department of Tourism, has led the way in reaching out to African-Americans and inviting them to meet and vacation in the USVI.  Easy to get to because U.S. citizens don't require passports to enter, this territory is part of the United States and the islands are an ideal domestic location to host meetings of any size.

It's no secret, location is everything and planners looking for an unparalleled destination will find plenty of choices in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The trio of breathtaking beauties - St. Croix, St. John, and St. Thomas - offer the perfect setting to enhance your meeting's productivity and create just the right inspiration your group will need. Whether planning for a small group of CEOs in St. John or an incentive retreat with spouses and children in tow in St. Thomas or St. Croix, knowledgeable meeting managers and savvy destination management companies (DMCs) can supply the latest technology and prepare creative itineraries in an affordable, safe and beautiful Caribbean island destination.

Venues range from high attention service luxury resorts to smaller, intimate, hideaways, all with easy access to off-site locations for hosting functions. The USVI provides a professional, yet, low-stress environment for business.

As an award-winning Caribbean resort, the 478-room Frenchman's Reef & Morning Star Marriott in St. Thomas provides guests with an unmatched experience rich in romantic lore. This island paradise is an ideal setting for everything from large-scale annual meetings to corporate retreats. The hotel comes complete with facilities to hold a large meeting or conference. The Grand Harbour Ballroom's 14,112 sq. ft. hosts up to 1,200 guests for a variety of events. Other amenities include spectacular outdoor venues and guest rooms with stunning views of St. Thomas.  The expert onsite audiovisual staff ensures flawless execution of meetings and events. High-speed Internet access is available at the resort.

When the meetings are over for the day and business is out of the way, it's time to indulge in the pleasures of the destination, like the 18-hole championship golf courses on St. Croix and St. Thomas. Adventurous colleagues can experience the thrill of yacht racing, hop aboard a wave runner, dive unfathomable depths, swim with the Caribbean's only sea lions or feel the warm trade winds on horseback. For more stress-free options, indulge in signature spa treatments, lounge on the deck of a catamaran or revel in the unmistakable splendor of our awesome beaches. Remember to carve out some time for a shopping excursion. With a $1,600 duty-free allowance per person and discounts of 20-40% on coveted items, you can take home something for everyone on your gift list.

            With Linville Johnson serving as the director of the African-American Market for The Bahamas Ministry of Tourism since July of 2014, The Bahamas has made it very clear they want to grow their share of this lucrative $60 billion niche segment.

After his appointment, Johnson explained "The Bahamas has always enjoyed a fantastic relationship with African-Americans.  Our geographical location, as the first country outside of the United States of America, our easy access, affordability, pre-American Customs and Immigration clearances, coupled with our shared affinity for heritage tourism and culture makes us an ideal destination for African-Americans.

"The world knows that The Bahamas has great weather, the best beaches, crystal clear waters and the friendliest people on earth," he continued, "but we want to highlight and celebrate our rich culture, legacy and historical ties that bind African-Americans and Bahamians together, all of which makes us distinctively different from any other destination in the world," said Johnson.

When it comes to meeting and event planning, location matters.  Jamaica has always done well with the Incentive market, and since the addition of The Montego Bay Convention Centre in 2011, this Caribbean gem can host even bigger conferences from around the world.  The convention center features include a ballroom of nearly 19,000 sq. ft., just under 11,000 sq. ft. of meeting space and approximately 57,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space. There also is about 37,000 sq. ft. of outdoor space available for meetings, receptions and concerts.

Jamaica with its diverse terrain is a welcome delight for meeting groups, with lush mountains, cascading waterfalls and centuries old plantations rich with history and intrigue.  Providing a satisfying meetings experience is of paramount importance to all involved in Jamaica's tourism industry.   "Tourism is Jamaica's number one industry.   We are not only committed to the industry, but also to ensuring the best possible environment for our guests, whether here for business or pleasure,"

says Dittie Guise, General Manager, SMG/Montego Bay Convention Centre.     

While the Montego Bay Convention Centre may be one of the region's most spectacular meeting spaces, it is by no means the only one.  Along with many resort properties and even smaller inns that can accommodate small to midsize meetings, there are some notable Caribbean venues for large groups.  The Puerto Rico Convention Center, with 580,000 sq. ft. of space, accommodates groups of up to 10,000. The Barcelo Bavaro Beach Resort & Convention in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic offers 24 meeting rooms and space for up to 5,000, plus amenities like a spa, a casino, a disco and an 18-hole golf course.  Barbados' largest meeting facility is the 164,000-sq. ft. Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, situated just 10 minutes from capital city, Bridgetown, and 15 minutes from the airport. The center offers meeting space for up to 1,200, 70,000 sq. ft. of exhibit space, a garden theatre and four dining rooms with tropical garden views that accommodate up to 600. 

Each Caribbean destination offers a host of attractions for visitors to explore its unique history, arts and architecture. Some of the top events and attractions showcase the island's vibrant and diverse musical heritage. Jamaica is home to the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, a required stop for any visitor interested in the life of the Reggae legend, and the Jamaica Jazz & Blues Festival is held each January in Montego Bay.

Quelbe, the official traditional music of the Virgin Islands, can be described as a "scratch band sound," according to the website of the USVI Department of Tourism. The music was invented by enslaved Africans working on sugar plantations where drum beating and dancing were forbidden by Danish law.  The ingenious musicians formed percussion bands with homemade bamboo flutes, bass drums, steel triangles and dried gourds. Over years, the guitar, tambourine, tail pipe and ukulele were added to the mix.

The town of Loiza, just east of San Juan, is called the African cultural center of Puerto Rico. It's listed by the website African Diaspora Tourism as a must-see attraction. Another notable Black heritage attraction on the island is the Museum of Our African Roots in Old San Juan.

On Curacao, the Museum Kura Hulanda in Willemstad showcases historical and art exhibits from Africa and the Caribbean.

In the USVI, visitors can tour the Cruzan Rum Distillery on St. Croix, which has been making rum since the 1600s. St. Croix also is home to the Fort Christian Pub, the only microbrewery in the Virgin Islands.

The Haagenson House museum on St. Thomas and Whim Museum on St. Croix display works of local artisans, from mahogany pieces to linens. The Annaberg Plantation ruins in St. John's National Park are one of USVI's most notable sightseeing attractions.

Bridgetown, Barbados and its military posts have been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its historical and cultural attractions are abundant.  Housed in a former 19th century military prison, the Barbados Museum holds a collection of rare historical maps. Tyrol Cot Heritage Village features a historic Palladian-style home and a modern village displaying local crafts. The Nidhe Israel Museum sits next to the oldest continually operating synagogue in the Western hemisphere, built in the 17 th century.

Sampling the culinary Caribbean is a cultural exploration all its own. Jamaica serves up its national dish of ackee and salt fish, along with other favorites like rice and peas and jerk chicken. For a taste of the local Bajan cuisine of Barbados, try the national dish, flying fish and cou-cou, the latter being an okra and cornmeal concoction.  Eateries in U.S. Virgin Islands offer many local specialties among a multicultural array of dining choices. There's kallaloo, a spicy stew made from okra, greens, meat and seafood; pates, a fried meat pastry; and soursop ice cream, made from a native exotic fruit. Then there's this unexpected USVI culinary attraction: The Texas Society's annual Chili Cook-Off, held each September on St. Thomas.

The natural beauty of Caribbean destinations is, of course, one of their biggest draws. Another is the wealth of outdoor activities available in these picturesque environments, from swimming, scuba diving, snorkeling and fishing in the Caribbean Sea to golfing, horseback riding, hiking, zip lining and simply sightseeing.

While all of the above are available throughout the Caribbean, the USVI, Jamaica and The Bahamas will probably continue to garner the lion's share of the African-American travel market unless and until other destinations in the region aggressively reach out and make it known that they value this market segment and want their business.

For U.S. travelers, a Caribbean meeting or vacation getaway is conveniently accessible, as many major airports stateside offer direct flights to some of the largest island cities. Remember, you'll need a passport unless you're traveling to the USVI or Puerto Rico.

Above all, pack your spirit of adventure, your curiosity and your appetite for delicious food, dynamic cultures and dazzling natural scenery.

For more information:

US Virgin Islands: or



Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO):

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