Growing Tourism: Country Must Start Looking East

There are a number of things that our destination needs to carry out in order for tourism to continue to grow. Just to name a few: upgrading our current tourism infrastructure; sustainable tourism development; and the introduction of new tours in the area of cultural and heritage tourism. Country Sint Maarten must remain innovative and think outside the box. 

2012 was a good year for Caribbean tourism as there was a 5.4 per cent increase in stay-over visitors. This rate of growth outpaced the rest of the world, which saw arrivals increase by four per cent. Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Beverly Nicholson-Doty, said 2012 was the best year for the region in five years. Visitor traffic to the region is expected to increase by another four to five per cent in 2013.

The region has as a whole regained ground lost from the global economic depression of 2008/2009. Last year the Caribbean welcomed nearly 25 million tourists.

Our national economic interest has been mainly focused on the North American and European markets with some attention to the Latin American market where it concerns attracting visitors to our destination from those areas. We now need to draft a strategy that will grow and diversify our tourism by looking to the East. China has a population of over 1.6 billion.

The 10 most ranked destinations for Chinese tourists according to the China National Tourism Administration are Hong Kong, Macao, South Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Russia, Singapore, Australia, the USA and Malaysia.

The groundwork is being laid to boost Chinese tourist arrivals to the region. Tourism cooperation is a top priority in China-Caribbean Community (CARICOM) dialogue. Caribbean countries that have established diplomatic relations with China have been listed as ‘Approved Tourism Destinations’ for Chinese citizens. This means that Caribbean tour companies can promote and market regional destinations to Chinese tour operators, who in turn can organize and advertise tours to islands in the region.

Even though China is far away, there are direct connections through major cities in the USA which makes it accessible for affluent Chinese travellers. For example, Sint Maarten could be promoted as an additional stop, inviting Chinese tourists to visit the destination for a few days as part of their vacation to the West (USA).

China’s flag carrier "Air China," is increasing its flights to North American hubs, and developing partnerships with carriers that fly to the Caribbean. It is the best route according to the Vice President and General Manager of North America for Air China Dr. Zhihang Chi. Gateway cities such as Miami, Atlanta and New York City would work well for the Caribbean.

A Boston Consulting Group study forecast that 100 million Chinese will be traveling internationally by 2015, compared to 57 million in 2010, 65 million in 2011 and 83 million in 2012. Chinese tend to travel in groups and like to sightsee and visit multiple destinations. A typical Chinese tourist will spend up to US$6000 per trip.

According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (WTO), Chinese tourists are outspending the Germans and US visitors. China’s spending on outbound travel swelled to US$102 billion last year, a 40 per cent jump from 2011.

According to the WTO, the rise of the Chinese travel market has big implications for businesses, with everyone from airlines and hoteliers to luxury brands beginning to change their strategies to attract China’s tourists.

Many Chinese tourists plan their travel specifically with shopping in mind, as taxes on luxury goods boost price tags by 30 to 50 per cent in China. A KPMG consulting firm survey of 1,200 Chinese shoppers said they bought watches in Hong Kong, Taiwan or Macau during the 12-month prior to August 2012, while only 31 per cent said they bought one within China’s borders during that time.

The internet is the mode of communication for 457 million Chinese. There are more internet users in China than the U.S. has in total population – 311 million. Jamaica has courted Chinese tourism, and developed a website in Chinese that received more than two billion hits following a visit from Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism.

Continue to grow our tourism oriented economy involves thinking outside the box. In order to maintain a vibrant sector, investments will have to continue to be made by public and private sectors. The traditional markets that we have grown accustomed too will continue to garner our attention and support, however we need now to think outside of the box and consider looking East when we take into consideration growth and opportunity for the people of our country in the 21st century.


Roddy Heyliger