Key factors for Multi-destination Tourism in the Post-Pandemic Caribbean
By: José Enrique Salgado Febles, PhD.
Professor, Faculty of Tourism
University of Havana, Cuba
Special to TTC 292, World Travel Market
The COVID-19 pandemic had a major impact on economies around the world, especially the travel and tourism sector. The Caribbean was one of the most affected, since for some countries tourism is their main sector. In 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, this sector represented 42% of total exports of goods and services in the region, according to ECLAC.
In the Tourism Dependency Index prepared by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), several Caribbean countries are among the most dependent worldwide. For Cuba, the Dominican Republic and the Mexican Caribbean, the sector is an important generator of foreign currency, employment and investment.
Most countries in the region have recovered and are approaching pre-pandemic visitor numbers. Already in 2022, Mexico received 38.3 million and the DR, which sets records for visitors and income, reached 7.16 million. Others like Cuba are still far from their 2019 figures. But they all have options to continue growing in multi-destination tourism (MDT).
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has been promoting this travel option in Central America and the Caribbean. The Central American Parliament (PARLACEN), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) and CELAC have pointed out the benefits for the region.
At the bilateral level there are different agreements between countries to promote MDT. Cuba, DR, Central America and Mexico are some of the most active and also some of the small English-speaking islands.
There are also multilateral initiatives that seek to facilitate travel, the free movement of people and intra- and extra-regional connectivity, such as the Single Market and Economy of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), the Central American Integration System (SICA) and the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS).
|Benefits of MDT for the CARIBBEAN REGION
|A single destination is the main attraction. The country brand is the one that is strengthened.
|The promotion of multi-destination is a key element. The CARIBBEAN Brand is strengthened, along with that of each country.
|Traditional routes of market access and promotion among potential visitors.
||Access to a broader market and an opportunity to increase the number of visitors, taking advantage of an extensive regional promotional effort and greater number of partners.
|The country’s benefits derive solely and directly from its own efforts.
||Each country benefits from the synergy between all and the experiences at the regional level and the opportunity to expand participation in tourism and distribute the benefits of tourism on a regional scale.
|The emphasis is on the promotion and development of the image of the Country/Destination.
|Strengthens the image and regional attractiveness by showing the diversity of the region and a greater number of attractions.
|The country or destination is promoted individually, often only as Sun and Beach.
||The region is promoted as a destination, taking advantage of and adding everyone’s potential, beyond Sun and Beach, as a cultural destination, adventures, events, etc.
Table 1 – Comparison of Benefits of Single-Destination Tourism vs. Multi-Destination.
However, all these actions focus fundamentally on integration and the movement of people. It is necessary to continue expanding these agreements and organizing effective actions at the regional level, since the progress of the MDT has been insufficient even though the results of 2023 are encouraging for take-off in the Caribbean. To achieve this there are four key commercial and operational factors.
Luckily air travel to the region has been recovering. The International Airports Council for Latin America and the Caribbean presents passenger traffic data at the region’s airports compared to 2019 with an increase in June of this year of 6.3%, while during the first half the increase reached 4.1%.
Puerto Rico stood out as the country with the most favorable results in proportional terms. Its airports registered an increase of 31% in June and 29.4% in the first half. Mexico and the Dominican Republic stood out by presenting, respectively, in June 2023, a growth of 12.2% and 16.6%, and in the first half of the year, an increase in passenger flow of 18.8% and 12.2%. Even Cuba showed increases compared to 2022, although insufficient.
On the other hand, low-cost airlines on intra-regional flights have allowed a greater flow, facilitating the transportation of tourists and businesspeople, not only from the United States and Europe, but also intra-regionally. In the Caribbean and Central America, only Puerto Rico exceeds a level of 50% of low-cost seats. Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Haiti remain above 40%.
Cruise trips are one of the main modalities of international multi-destination. Most cruise ships, even river cruises, call at ports in more than one country. A smaller part is concentrated in ports of a single nation.
The Caribbean + Bahamas have increased their weight in the global movement of cruise passengers from before the pandemic, up to 40% of passengers worldwide, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), boosted above all by the U.S. market which concentrates the main companies in the world and perhaps the most recovered worldwide.
From 2022 to August 2023, cruise capacity in the Caribbean has grown 11.2% and is expected to exceed what was achieved in 2019 by 6.8%, according to the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA). Actually here the reaction has been mainly from the big lines, not so much from the multi-destination negotiation between the countries of the region.
This year, cruise arrivals to the Caribbean have skyrocketed on 37 lines (4 more than pre-Covid). The trend continues at least until 2025. New lines have joined the traditional Royal Caribbean, Carnival, Celebrity, Scenic and MSC to reach the growing number of customers who want to enjoy the sun, warmth and beauty of the Caribbean.
What is pending is that the region, while enabling new terminals and improving existing ones, achieve better contracts with cruise lines, that they guarantee greater income while being more respectful of the environment.
LAND CONNECTIVITY (LC)
For MDT, the countries of the region must develop internal connectivity, with a land transportation network (buses, trains, taxis, car rentals) and roads that facilitate the movement of visitors, from airports and cruise terminals to cities and other destinations and areas of the country.
Europe is an example with its connections and multimodality that allows air, train (even high-speed) and bus to be easily combined in carrier reservation systems and Global Distribution Systems (GDS), even through mobile applications.
For Mexico and Central America, land connectivity is also a facilitating factor for MD.
+ TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
Multi-destination should be an effective and cost-effective tool to attract visitors to the Caribbean who might not otherwise consider visiting a single country, especially those from distant source markets who want to make the most of a long-distance trip by visiting renowned attractions of the same area.
The Central American Tourism Promotion Agency (CATA) recently launched a multi-destination campaign in six European countries, its second most important tourism market (14.8% of total travelers). The “Come live it” campaign on social networks seeks to help travelers get to know the destinations of Central America and the DR.
Agreements between Cuba and the DR with European issuers, Russia and China or Mexico with Japan can make it easier for them to ensure that once these travelers arrive in those countries on long trips for a stay of 7, 10, or 15 days, it will not be difficult for them to dedicate a couple of of days and discover another destination in the region and expand their enjoyment and knowledge.
The same with cruise passengers who visit a certain port for a few hours are attracted by what they see and then decide to make a trip specifically to that single destination or to several neighboring ones, not by cruise but by another route and for a longer time.
What remains then is to develop and promote tourist attractions beyond the traditional Sun and Beach, so that more tourists get off the cruise ships at the berths, take more excursions and increase the economic spillover.
This will generate greater demand for tourism, both single and multi-destination, and negotiation en bloc with regional principles with airlines and cruise lines may be more effective.