Caribbean urged to tap Chinese tourism market
Jamaica and other Caribbean interests have failed to tap the lucrative travel market in China because of structural barriers and lacklustre marketing, says an agent leading the Chinese delegation to the Caribbean Travel Marketplace under way in the resort city of Montego Bay.
Dr Adam Wu, in an interview with The Gleaner on Wednesday, is urging the Caribbean to level the playing field – such as removing visa restrictions for Chinese travellers, as Jamaica has done – and promote regional destinations more vigorously in the Orient. He also blamed a shortage of airlift as a major inhibitor.
“It is because of the long distance; because there is no direct flight yet to any part of the Caribbean, apart from Cuba,” Wu, who heads the Chinese Business Network, explained, noting that apart from Cuba, only Jamaica and The Bahamas have started aggressive promotion in China. “The flight to Cuba is very restricted or difficult, because it is via Montreal in Canada where they stop over, because it is a long distance, making it impossible for any airline to fly non-stop. That is a real barrier.”
He also called for visa exemption parity to woo Chinese tourists.
“Not all the countries have removed the visa requirements. Obviously, Jamaica, a good example, has done so,” said Wu. “Minister Bartlett has been pushing the idea of a kind of unified visa regime within the Caribbean.”
Jamaica has already removed visa restrictions, but many of the other countries haven’t, but Wu argues that the Chinese would be more inclined to travel to multiple Caribbean destinations instead of a single country.
Wu revealed that approximately 160 Chinese travel agents applied for the 20 available spots to accompany him to Jamaica for Caribbean Travel Marketplace, the region’s largest tourism trade show.
MORE KNOWLEDGE NEEDED
“The interest is so great that a China-ready workshop for tour operators and suppliers will be staged tomorrow (Thursday) at the Montego Bay Convention Centre,” he remarked.
This was indicative, Wu said, that tour operators were very keen on the Caribbean, but noted that they were in need of more knowledge about the destinations and their offerings.
At a press conference on Wednesday, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Director General Frank Comito had also said that the issue of China’s proximity to the region posed a stark challenge.
“Proximity is one of our major challenges, so we have to attract them in different ways ... . Bahamas has had some success,” said Comito.
“In The Bahamas, we have started training our employees, changing some of our menu items, and adjusting a lot of things in terms of restaurant times, types of entertainment,” he explained.
“I think we are beginning to see the value. The fact that we have 20 travel companies here from China is not by accident. It is very targeted, very strategic,” Comito added.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said Jamaica was on the cusp of reaping the benefits of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s marketing pitch to Chinese visitors.
“It has been a little while trying to get the Chinese market to be activated. I think that we are now at a point where we can begin to engage air connectivity, which is very important to us,” Bartlett said.