By Alexander Britell
MONTEGO BAY — Grenada is continuing its push to promote tourism, with a brand-new marketing campaign and a focus on positioning the country as a kind of high-end, eco-tourism destination. Like the rest of the Caribbean, Grenada is trying to make headway in an increasingly competitive global sector.
To learn more about the state of tourism in the country, Caribbean Journal caught up with Grenada Tourism Minister Alexandra Otway-Notel at the recent CHTA Marketplace event in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
CJ: How is tourism in Grenada right now?
Otway-Noel: Grenada is fantastic. First of all, we won by a landslide victory [in 2013]; that was the first step. We have a very progressive, conservative-progressive government that sees the people as being the top priority. And tourism is our number one income earner, so we’ve decided to make sure that our tourism is properly set up.
We did a strategic plan using the help of the whole tourism sector and set up the Grenada Tourism Authority. We used to have the Grenada Board of Tourism, and we’ve changed over to the GTA, which is a much more focused entity. Tourism in Grenada is on the rise. We have an amazing product. Grenada has the best of everything – we have rivers and waterfalls and lush cloud forests and beautiful beaches and friendly people and it’s safe. We have gorgeous hotels – Sandals just opened their beautiful Sandals La Source, which has done very well.
CJ: What kind of impact has Sandals had so far for the island?
Otway-Noel: It’s a huge change in the movement in people. So we’re very pleased, and it’s a wonderful addition to the product that we have. Of course, we have hotels like the Spice Island Beach Resort and Calabash, Mount Cinnamon and the smaller properties like Flamboyant and Coyaba and the Grand Beach Resort, which just switched over to Radisson. So that was a positive, our first big brand. So there are a lot of good things happening in Grenada.
We also have a lot of investors there looking to build some new hotels, which is very encouraging. We’re focusing on eco-tourism, because it’s what we are. We’re this lush island, and we want to maintain that, to preserve it. We’re not looking for mass tourism. We’re looking for quality, not quantity. We’re encouraged by what we’re seeing. American Express recently put out a poll to say that people are coming and asking for Grenada, which is tremendous, because we haven’t really done any mass marketing, it’s word of mouth.
CJ: Where are most of your visitors coming from?
Otway-Noel: It’s half and half between the United States and the United Kingdom. But of course, with the introduction of the APD, our UK figures have been going down a bit, and the APD just recently went up again. We’re going to focus on the markets that are closer to home – North America. We just got Delta Vacations, which just started coming to Grenada, so we’re going to talk to them and find some new routes and so on, and get some more excitement going on in the US, especially now that it’s so cold – people need a tropical paradise like Grenada to come to.
CJ: The APD is something you’ve been outspoken about.
Otway-Noel: I’ve been very vocal about the APD, and I think it’s an unfair tax, because it started out as an environmental tax, and the structure of it is an environmental tax structure, and it’s not an environmental tax. So there’s no justification for charging less to one place versus another. It was fuel cost – the further you travel, the more it costs. We’re very disappointed that they’ve continued to increase it. Members of the Caribbean Community governments have gone and spoken with [the UK] on several occasions.
I know [St Kitts and Nevis Tourism Minister Ricky Skerritt] went, and we went the last time we were at World Travel Market [in London]. And they’re really not interested in what we’re saying. The truth of the matter is that the tax affects lives in a real way. There are hotels closing down, people losing jobs and it’s a real trickle-down effect. Not only that, they’re cutting families apart. Because in the 1950s, a lot of Caribbean people went to live in the UK. And they can’t come home now, because they just can’t afford it. And yes, okay, the UK government is making a lot of money and it’s wonderful and so on, and we’re not saying there shouldn’t be a tax, just make it one fair price, so we can have the opportunity to compete. That’s’ what we’re asking for. So it’s difficult.
The truth of the matter is we have a very good relationship with our UK British carriers, and we don’t know how long they will be able to hold out, because of course it’s affecting them as well. And we also have to look for business. So what we’re going to do is start to broaden our horizon more into Central Europe and other destinations. Because we have to fill up our hotel rooms. And we love our British visitors, but [the UK is] making it more difficult for them to visit the Caribbean.
CJ: How is the airlift situation in general for Grenada? Has Sandals’ entry brought any new demand?
Otway-Noel: Having more rooms on the island in general, and of course, the Sandals brand alone attracts a lot of attention. So we’ve been getting positive feedback from airlines. We haven’t increased too much with airlift since Sandals has come. Because we already had steady service from American, British Airways, Air Canada. And Air Canada has increased its service to Grenada a little bit. But we need to grow in a sustainable way. We don’t want to have too much of anything.
CJ: What are some of the other initiatives you’re working on?
Grenada is a very rich cultural place. There is lots of culture, lots of heritage. So we’re working on our sites, and we’re trying to create some new things for our visitors and, in addition to that, still keep it within eco-tourism and the natural beauty of Grenada. We’re also working on some of our heritage sites. We have fortresses and wonderful places that need a little bit of a polishing up. So we’re working on that as well.
Our dive sector is tremendous, and there’s not much to do there – the dive shops are excellent, but we need to promote it a little more. And sailing – sailing in the Southern Caribbean is absolutely gorgeous. We have businesses where you can charter boats and go sailing in the Grenadines. So we want to talk about that a little more as well.
We have several different components we can sell and market, and we’re going to try a little bit to be more niche-market oriented. Romance of course is a big one; Grenada is coming up as one of the favourite romance destinations, and we’ve also been on some television shows. So it’s all good.
CJ: Last year, you talked about bringing more cruising to the Southern Caribbean. Is that something you’re working on?
Otway-Noel: We don’t want to overdo it. There are some islands where the population doubles. We want our cruise visitors to come and also enjoy the island, and appreciate it, and to be able to feel like a guest, not like number 5,642. So (we) want to make sure our cruise business is steady – we don’t want to overdo it.
We’re happy to see next year that Carnival (Cruise Line) will be coming back to Grenada. We have a couple of stops. Of course, it’s about being at the table. We are very proactive and we want to see Grenada succeed and we have to hustle – tourism is a very competitive business. We have so many islands in the Caribbean that are so beautiful, but we have to realise that there’s a whole big world out there and, as a region, we need to be strong.
So we’ve been doing some joint marketing, and we stand firmly behind the CTO and others that are trying to promote the Caribbean as a whole. It’s important that we do that.
CJ: Where would you like to see Grenada’s tourism industry be in five years?
CJ: I would like to see us as a luxury, environmentally responsible, economically successful [destination]. I want to see all Grenadians who want a job to have one, tourism being the number one. But also a spin-off of that into other sectors as well. That would make me very happy – and that would be the end of my first term, so that would be perfect! So that’s my vision.