Today's Caribbean Traveller
By Tim M. E. Peck, Chairman of OBM International
Say Caribbean, and the image typically conjured up in any potential traveller's mind is a paradise with turquoise water breaking on a sandy beach lined with tall coconut palms. In reality, the Caribbean is 28 island nations and 7,000 islands, each offering this tropical Eden in many different forms; every island and its inhabitants possessing its own distinct charm and personality.
Research shows today’s traveller is a more discerning tourist, seeking to travel to destinations that reflect some of the culture and context of its environment. This is particularly true of the Caribbean market which has traditionally been less focused on big name hotel brands, allowing the regional market to cater to a tourist who is looking for a one-of-a-kind experience with a strong focus on authenticity. Translated into resort design, the focus is on identity, character, individuality and flexibility, which in Caribbean terms has evolved from the pastiche of gingerbread and pastels to a more sophisticated interpretation of architecture and cultural traditions.
Many of the Caribbean islands have traditionally thrived on a strong luxury market and, despite recent economic challenges, it is apparent that the truly affluent are moving away from the concept of collecting products and are now focused on collecting lifetime experiences. Possession or an association with ‘things’ is becoming less important; the focus is on the transformational experience and how these experiences combine to help create a sense of self. Hence the growth of adventure tourism, cultural tourism and educational tourism, with visitors looking for an experience that invigorates, educates and adds to their personal growth, transforming their lives in some way. There are a number of values associated with this approach, but two that stand out are authenticity and integrity.
The social conscience of the contemporary traveller has evolved from responding to cause related marketing to wanting to feel that their vacation is helping save the planet. Guests are increasingly seeking a truly sustainable eco-friendly experience, expressed in the architecture and operations of the destination and in its relationship with the surrounding communities. The visitor wants to stay at a five-star resort in a naturally beautiful location, but also feel a genuine sensitivity to community; to come away with a sense that their visit has had a positive impact on the very place they came to see, fulfilling their wish to ‘relate’ at a personal level. This is not only great news forthe environment, but as more destinations throughout the Caribbean adopt these standards, they will be associated with an enhanced perception and in line with the values and needs of their target guests.
The strength of the second home market, pre the 2008 economic paradigm shift, was being driven by the demands of the multigenerational traveller. The focus on quality of life continues to place an emphasis on family travel, particularly within the generation X market, using vacation time to bring the generations together. Despite the weakening of the second home market, due to the challenges of the economy, the premise of multigenerational travel remains a constant and the resorts of the future must offer creative ways to address this segment of the market.
There are many existing Caribbean resorts that have established a faithful following through their focus on providing an environment that celebrates their context and the surrounding community’s culture, and have adapted to the requirements of the contemporary traveller. The design and development of future Caribbean destinations must build upon this success to offer the ambiance of escape from the challenges of ‘reality’, backed by the sophistication and service levels demanded by our contemporary lifestyle.
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