Snow, high winds, and other wintry weather problems caused more than 1,900 flight cancellations a couple of Fridays ago and also many of the roads into Manhattan were still covered with snow, which contributed to a light turnout at the Jacob Javitz conference center for the morning sessions of the New York Times Travel Show, held February 26-28, 2010. There were several no-show exhibitors, however, many exhibitor/vendors stepped up to fill in and make it a successful, educational, and informative event.
For the Trade Day, there were several sessions for agents specializing in various niche markets: Focus on the Caribbean, Focus on Africa, Focus on Cruising,Focus on Meetings, and Focus on Specialization.
I registered to attend the Focus on Caribbean session, moderated by Doug Kostowski, president of Travel People. A featured speaker for the morning session was Sylma Brown-Bramble, acting director of marketing of CTO-USA Inc., who opened with an informative discussion: “Overview of Caribbean Travel Trends,” highlighting that the Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region – US$2.5 million of GDP. In addition, 2009 reported a drop in tourism to the Caribbean, however, 22.1 million tourists visited the region, and 2010 is expected to grow by 3 percent. Also, 30 percent of Americans plan to take a vacation in 2010, and the region is prepared to receive visitors with new and increasing airlift and lots of deals, especially last-minute. One good thing for travel agents is that although travelers are more Internet savvy, they are increasingly using travel professionals to purchase their vacations. In summary, visitors are still coming to the Caribbean, but they are spending less and enjoying shorter stays.
Sylma also mentioned CTO will bring road shows to the west coast – Caribbean Goes West – beginning in April, in conjunction with various Carribean representatives/NTOs.
Fernando Abreu, deputy director of marketing of CTO-USA, Inc., informed attendees of the CTO organization and chapter membership (www.caribbeantravel.com and www.onecaribbean.org ), saying, “The Caribbean is an intersection – at the crossroads of the Americas and the world; a mix of the old and new; and a blending of traditions, customs, and people.”
Geri Bain, formerly of Modern Bride and Travel Agent Magazine and current editor-in-chief of Travel Market Report (www.TravelMarketReport.com ) spoke on “Caribbean Niche Markets” and highlighted why the Caribbean’s proximity and diversity of accommodations make it an easy sell for the US market. Also, the US$5-billion industry of honeymoon and destination weddings continue to increase, as well as emerging “babymoons” and overflow business such as family reunions, vow renewals, and anniversaries, which usually result from visitors attending a wedding ceremony for the first time or a visit to a new and unique island destination. Another emerging travel niche market – medical tourism – was also discussed as a means to increase revenue.
Since the average budget is US$3,500, and guests stay 7-10 nights, Geri encouraged agents to target this market by participating/attending bridal fairs and networking with bridal suppliers and trying to brand online, in-store, or find out which works best since most book within 5-9 months prior and 48.1 percent are booking with travel professionals.
The later session consisted of Liat Airlines (“Getting There”) and fill-ins for Jet Blue Airlines and Travel impressions, and Nars Ciso Romero of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company (“The Islands of Puerto Rico” www.seepuertorico.com ).
An added speaker was Chris Russo, ASTA president, “Marketing Report & Maximizing Partnerships,” who stated “finding your passion” can lead to your success as a travel professional. He suggested co-oping with a business or travel supplier and having a plan of action; and most importantly: “follow through.” He stressed the importance of “collaboration.”
After lunch, ASTA president Chris Russo delivered the keynote address titled: “Not Your Grandfather’s Travel Business.” Here he stressed the importance of specializing.
As the day progressed, the rooms filled up, and by the afternoon, many agents had showed up for the Trade Day and enjoyed a light boxed-lunch with hot and cold beverages.
The tradeshow floor was lively with the sounds of steel-drum music in the Caribbean section and came alive during the reception as Brazil entertained in the Central/South America section during the evening reception, as agents enjoyed signature drinks and wines and a very light appetizer menu.
It was a treat to watch Brazilian artists perform live drum music and an energetic Capoeira – martial arts exhibition – and the very eye-catching samba dancing.
So despite the cold and wintry weather outside the Jacob Javitz center, inside the heat of the Anguillan rum, the Caribbean steel-drum music, and the sultry and mesmerizing beats of Brazil and Caiporinhia drinks kept us all warm inside.