All posts by Pippa Jacks
Agents selling lots of the Caribbean may have noticed a lull in activity from the Bahamas in the past year. But that’s about to change, according to the tourist board, since it has appointed a new director for the UK and Europe, who moves to the London office shortly.
At WTM 2013, I reported that the Bahamas Tourist Office had suspended contracts with its PR and advertising agencies around the world while it reassessed its strategy.
A new tourism director general, Joy Jibrilu, was appointed in May, and I met with both her and Anthony Stuart - the new European director - when they came over on a sales mission this month.
“We appreciate our presence has not been as strong in the UK since Tommy Thompson [deputy director general] moved back home from London, so we want to re-establish ourselves here,” Jibrilu told me.
“Having Anthony come to London speaks to our intent and our seriousness about re-engaging with this market,” she added.
The UK remains a small but important market for the Bahamas, at around 7% of arrivals. Total arrivals by air (as opposed to cruise ship) dipped by 5.7% to 1.2 million last year, but the BTO is confident it will see growth this year.
With the massive Baha Mar complex in Nassau (pictured) due to begin a soft-launch in December, the Bahamas will certainly need to boost visitor numbers in 2015. Baha Mar Casino & Hotel will be the first of five hotels to open its doors, with a Hyatt, Rosewood and SLS to open next spring.
The Sheraton formerly on the Cable Beach site has already become a Sol Melia.
The complex will add 2,600 rooms to Nassau, which has prompted concern about lack of adequate airlift.
Stuart said one of his priorities was to “get the airlift back” between Europe and the Bahamas. Currently only British Airways flies direct from Heathrow to Nassau. Increasing the aircraft size and frequency on that route could make a significant difference for the UK, he pointed out. Partnerships between US and European airlines such as Virgin-Atlantic and Delta are also making the Bahamas more accessible, since most UK visitors fly via the US.
Attracting visitors to explore the Bahamas beyond Nassau Paradise Island remains a key objective for the tourist board, Jibrilu confirmed. “We are not just one island,” she insisted. “We have 700 islands actually, and 16 that we promote individually. Each has a completely different feel, and there are so many ways to get around them.”
* This article originally stated that BA flies from Gatwick to Nassau. BA in fact flies from Heathrow to Nassau. It also stated that the Sheraton will become a Sol Melia: the change in management has already taken place.
Caribbean islands such as Barbados and St Barths are well known for their plentiful supply of villas, but St Lucia hopes to steal some of that market in the coming years.
I met the island’s minister of tourism, Lorne Theophilus, at a recent St Lucia Showcase event (pictured top) for tour operators and hoteliers.
“We have significant room stock in villas and condos, but while Barbados has exposed its villa aspect very well, there is much more we could do to bring our own to the fore,” he said.
He revealed that 200 additional villa units were in the pipeline in St Lucia, including privately owned villas, villa complexes and timeshare properties.
The government is to create investment packages to attract new villa development, and is currently mapping the island’s villa inventory, with the information to be available by late November.
Theophilus is confident there will be demand from the UK market: “We’ll be approaching it aggressively this year and have already heard from UK travel partners that they are keen to include it in their marketing strategies for 2014,” he reported.
Caribtours’ Caribbean product manager Katherine Hobbs said that while the operator’s 2013-14 brochure had already been printed, St Lucia’s villa product was of interest for next year.
“We’ve added four pages of villas in our latest brochure and have played it fairly conservatively because of limited time, focusing on Barbados and Mustique, but our long-term aim is to expand it out. We’ll now get enquiries for villas in other destinations, so we need to be prepared,” she said.
UK arrival figures to St Lucia are 5% down on last year, but the tourist board reports that visitor spend is up and that forward bookings are strong.
Tour operators agree that hotel upgrades have been key to St Lucia’s success in the past two years, and the government is looking to extend tax-break incentives to enable more hotels to invest in refurbishment.
Ladera has added suites, Coconut Bay is expanding, over-the-water villas are under construction at Sandals Grande St Lucian, and conversion of the former Jalousie Plantation into Viceroy’s Sugar Beach (pictured left) is now complete.
Two international hotel brands have also committed to the island, with ground having been broken on Six Senses Freedom Bay, and Capella Resorts taking over Discovery at Marigot Bay.
Following the birth of Prince George of Cambridge in July, British pride and interest in our monarchy is riding high.
Germany hopes to capitalise on George-fever by attracting British tourists to explore Germany’s own links to the British Royal Family.
Next year marks the 300th anniversary of the Hanoverian accession to the thrones of the UK and Ireland, when King George I, then ruler of Hanover, became the King of England because Queen Anne had no non-Roman Catholic relatives to pass it on to.
The German National Tourist Office has launched the British German Royal Heritage Route to commemorate the 123 years during which the House of Hanover was linked to Britain.
The route focuses on Lower Saxony, and suggests visits to Hanover, Brunswick, Celle, Hamelin and Norderney - the Fresian island that was the summer residence for the Royal Family.
Highlights of the route include Marienberg Castle (pictured), which the last King of Hanover, George V, built for his wife Marie, and several palaces, gardens and castles.
His Royal Highness Prince Ernst August of Hanover - George V’s great, great, great, grandson - officially launched the new route in London earlier this month.
“Marienberg remains one of Germany’s most impressive monuments, and next year visitors can see the Kingdom of Hanover jewels and bridal crowns displayed for the first time,” he said.
Tour operators including Great Rail Journeys/Treyn have created tours around the heritage route. “We’ve gone the whole hog with the Hanoverian connections in our new eight-day Britain’s Royal Heritage Tour,” said GRJ’s product manager Rob Carroll. “Seeing the crown jewels in Hanover and seeing the Princely School of Riding Art at Buckeburg Castle will be really special.” The operator has departures in June, August and September next year.
Other significant anniversaries and events next year and beyond, include the 300th anniversary of the birth of composer Bach and the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin The UK director of the GNTO, Klaus Lohmann, said there was a record 4.5 million overnight stays by UK visitors in Germany in 2012, up 5.7% on 2011, with an ambitious target of 5.4 million overnight stays by 2020.
Last week, everything I thought I knew about rum punch was blown out of the water — or the ice-bucket, at least.
Rum mixologists Mark Woods and Bruce Govia took part in a Trinidad and Tobago Tourism culinary evening, where I learned exactly
what a traditional rum punch should consist of.
Far from the fruit-laden, syrupy-sweet concoctions I’ve been glugging in the Caribbean for years, a true rum punch contains only lemons, sugar and dark rum, Govia told me.
“You have to macerate the lemon rind with the sugar first,” he said. “Really bang it for an hour so the lemon juice and oil from the rind come together in wonderful ecstasy.”
Next, he added the rum — Angostura 1919, aged for eight years — and ice. The result was a delicious balance of sweet and sour, much more refreshing than the overly sweet, brightly coloured versions I’ve often had.
I also learned some tricks from Trinidadian chef Shivi Ramoutar, who was a quarter-finalist on MasterChef 2013. She demonstrated how Trinidadian flavours can be achieved with supermarket produce, creating an indulgent tamarind aioli from tamarind paste, mayonnaise, coriander, garlic, salt and pepper.
Finally, chef Hasan Defour (pictured right), who accompanied Gary Rhodes on Rhodes Across the Caribbean and has also worked alongside the Hairy Bikers at Notting Hill Carnival, showed me how to make a simple Paradise Salsa. He combined macadamia-infused cane sugar with lime juice and Scotch bonnet pepper before adding “the sunshine” (mango) and “the love” (watermelon). I enjoyed it piled on to “bake and shark” — breaded fried fish inside a fried bread roll, a popular street food in Trinidad and Tobago.
Food and drink is just one aspect of the destination that the tourist board is currently promoting. “It can be hard to compete with other Caribbean destinations in terms of simple sun and beach, so we’re focusing on our experiential products, away from the beach, which actually carry more value,” said Darrin des Vignes, UK manager for Trinidad and Tobago Tourism.
These include scuba diving, wildlife watching and sports tourism, with the country recently in the spotlight after a Trinidadian athlete won the 400m at the World Athletics Championships in Moscow. Soft adventure is also an increasing attraction, with a new zipline having opened earlier this year.
Agents who are yet to visit the destination should look out for a forthcoming incentive to win a place on a 2014 megafam, he added.
The incentive is expected to launch at WTM in November — where there’ll be plenty more rum.
After three hours, I’d almost given up hope. Then, in the final half hour, it happened: an adult female leopard strolled out of the bush and padded down to the watering hole. She sat lapping leisurely from the pool for several minutes, right across from our jeep.
In Sri Lanka’s Yala National Park, seeing a wild leopard is the highlight for most visitors, including me. This park lays claim to having the highest concentration of leopards in the world - up to 17.6 per 100 square kilometres, at the last count.
But not everyone is as thrilled to see a leopard as the tourists are.
For the growing number of cattle farmers on the perimeter of the park, these big cats spell big trouble.
Chitral Jayatilake, head of eco-tourism for the company which owns the Cinnamon and Chaaya hotel brands, told me several leopards are poisoned by farmers every year. “If a calf is killed, the mother’s milk will dry up too, so it’s a double hit for the farmer, and then the revenge starts,” he explained.
Recognising that without leopards, there’ll be no tourists, Cinnamon Wild Yala resort is working to provide steel cages for farmers to put their young cattle in at night, protecting them from leopard attack. “Project leopard” has seen 35 pens issued, at a cost of $650 each, with help from donors including Exodus. “It’s been an amazingly effective project - helping the villagers and the leopards,” said Jayatilake.
Irresponsible behaviour such as feeding the elephants is another big problem at Yala.
The Cinnamon group is trying to address this too, having raised money to buy and maintain a patrol vehicle for the park. Jonathan and Angela Scott of the TV series Big Cat Diary helped out by giving a fundraising talk at London’s Royal Geographical Society last September.
Guests at Cinnamon and Chaaya hotels across the island have the chance to get first-hand experience of other wildlife initiatives. Guests at Chaaya Blu on the east coast, for example, can take a snorkelling trip to Pigeon Island where the hotel is working to protect the reef. Cinnamon Lodge Habarana has employed a primatologist to create a primate-watching excursion. And all visitors to Sri Lanka are asked to assist in a blue whale identification project by uploading photographs of their tails to a gallery, at flickr.com/people/sri_lanka_blue_whale_id/
Tucked away up a lush green hillside on Jamaica’s north coast, Greenwood Great House is an Aladdin’s cave of antiques. The house was built in 1780 by the Barrett family of Wimpole Street in London, from which the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning is descended.
The Barretts were some of the richest plantation owners in the Caribbean, amassing 84,000 acres of land and 2,000 slaves in Jamaica. But, as I learned on my visit, they were among the more enlightened “plantocracy” of their time, and treated their slaves more humanely than many others. So, during the slave rebellion of 1831, when many great houses were burned down, Greenwood was left alone.
That’s lucky for Bob Betton, an antiques-enthusiast who bought the house in 1976, and also for visitors to Jamaica today, as Greenwood has become one of the Caribbean’s best antique museums, and an intriguing place to learn about colonial history.
I was shown around by Bob himself, who took pride in describing the furniture, paintings, maps and ceramics. These include an original Tiffany lampshade made of glass, the oldest intact library on the island, and a collection of Wedgewood china made for the Barretts with their family crest. There are also old musical instruments, such as a penny-in-the-slot polyphone from the 1800s, which still hammers out a tune.
Things took a supernatural turn in “duppy” corner (meaning “ghost” in Jamaican patois), where there is an oil painting that seems to depict the ghost of a deceased relative, and also a photograph that includes a servant who died several years earlier. “I did some research, to see if it could be simply a double-exposure, but there was no such thing on a camera from that period,” Bob confided.
Not a house to be alone at night in, then. I barely knew whether to believe Bob when he said he and his wife sleep in the grand old wooden beds at night. I was only convinced when he opened up an antique cupboard to reveal an enormous flatscreen TV.
Greenwood is a smaller great house than nearby Rose Hall, but has more to offer in terms of antiques, and is also much quieter. There’s also a pub onsite and beautiful gardens, making it a pretty wedding venue.
One of the highlights was spending a few minutes on the first-floor veranda, which Bob warned me has a tendency to “make you work less”. With an uninterrupted, 180-degree view out across the ocean, I could even see the curvature of the earth - and why the Barrett family might have chosen this spot. Greenwood Great House is open for tours every day between 9am and 6pm, priced at $20.
*Greenwood Great House website: www.greenwoodgreathouse.com
* Visit Jamaica website: www.visitjamaica.com/attractions/greenwood-great-house.aspx
At precisely 8 o’clock each evening since 1928, the mournful Last Post bugle call has been played at Menin Gate in Ypres, Flanders, to commemorate those that fell in the Great War of 1914-1918.
July 9, 2015 will mark the 30,000th occasion upon which the Last Post has been sounded at the gate - a date which will form one of the highlights of the Great War Centenary, from 2014-2018.
I caught up with Andrew Daines, UK director of Tourism Flanders-Brussels, who outlined the various projects underway. British and German trenches are being reconstructed near the Memorial Museum of Passchendaele 1917, while a new visitor’s centre at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery will focus on the medical context of the war.
In Ypres, the In Flanders Fields Museum has already been expanded and new technology introduced, with visitors receiving a micro-chipped poppy-bracelet to discover “their fate” in the war.
Tourism Flanders is also a premier partner of World Travel Market for the next two years, and visitors to the London trade show in November will find a pathway of poppies leading them to the Visit Flanders stand, as well as seminars and presentations. “Our partnership with WTM indicates just how high profile the Great War Centenary is,” said Daines. “WTM seemed the perfect fit for us to communicate with the trade about working together,” he added.
Since there will be such massive media coverage in the run up to and during the centenary, agents can expect a surge in interest in the region. “Around 300,000 people come to the Flanders Fields each year, but we predict annual visitor numbers could reach a million during the centenary, so the opportunity for agents is huge,” Daines pointed out.
Agents should look out for online training and fams, and can email trade manager Lisa Thomas on firstname.lastname@example.org for updates.
Daines expects operators such as Leger, Newmarket Holidays, Cresta and Ramblers to ramp up their battle-fields products for the centenary, but military history is not the only reason to visit Flanders. The country also has sandy beaches, canals to cruise on, countryside to walk and cycle through, and Belgium’s famous beers to enjoy on brewery tours. “We also have more Michelin-starred restaurants per capita than anywhere in the world, so your clients can be assured of eating well, at reasonable prices,” Daines claimed.
If you think of hot-dogs as a simple junk-food, you’ve clearly never had them Guatemalan-style. Served in a toasted bun, and piled high with pickled cabbage, avocado, spicy chilli-coriander sauce and mayonnaise, they are nothing like the limp, pale hot-dogs you might buy from a cart in the street.
I tried my hand at creating my own at a Guatemala Tourist Board (Inguat) event last week, where renowned chef Humberto Dominguez also showed us how to make fish ceviche, tamarind chicken, fillet steak in coffee sauce and cinnamon-infused rice pudding.
You can expect to see and hear more of Inguat in 2013, as the tourist board embarks upon what the Guatemalan embassy described as a “refocusing” on the UK market. “Three or four years ago we had a taxi campaign but have been quieter in the UK since then,” said Henning Droege of the embassy in the UK. “But with our Spanish market impacted by the economy, the UK is now our most important European market, and we now hope to really re-engage with the UK travel trade,” he added.
The number of British visitors to Guatemala grew by 50% in 2012, rising from 6,327 to 9,913, and the tourist board is hopeful of further growth this year. “Guatemala is at the heart of the Mayan world and since the new solar calendar marks such a special moment in our history, it’s an opportunity for us to show the world the richness of our culture and our natural world,” said Inguat subdirector, Maru Acevedo.
With the country being named from an indigenous Nahuatl word meaning “land of many trees”, it’s no surprise to learn that 30% of lush Guatemala is protected land, and that it’s home to 172 species of mammal and more than 700 bird species. As well as visiting ancient Mayan sites, exploring historic Antigua and enjoying the country’s wildlife, clients can also undertake more unusual activities like speleology (caving), ziplining, volcano-climbing and scuba-diving in both lakes and the ocean.
Acevedo confirmed the importance of UK travel agents in selling Guatemala: “Most UK visitors come on organised trips, and many use an agent, so it’s vital for us to engage with UK agents.” Inguat is planning fam trips and training missions for the UK trade, as well as more events like last week’s cooking demonstration. On March 25, Inguat will help launch a new Guatemalan coffee by Starbucks, at an event at The British Museum.
National Geographic magazine claimed earlier this year that Yasuni National Park in Ecuador may be the most biodiverse place on earth. But it’s not a crown Ecuador will wear for long, if a Peruvian conservation organisation has anything to do with it.
Crees is a charitable foundation based in the Manu region of Peru’s rainforest, where visitors can see conservation research and sustainable community development in action. In May, staff and volunteers at Crees plan to undertake their very own “BioBlitz” study to prove that Manu is even more abundant than Yasuni in plant and animal life.
I met with founder Quinn Meyer who is confident Manu will break the record. “I’ve seen 12 different jaguars in the past 16 months for example,” he reported. “That’s got to be the highest recording ever found.”
British-born Meyer established Crees (Conservation Research and Environmental Education Towards Sustainability) in 2002 after witnessing what he describes as the “circle of poverty”, with local communities extracting the forest’s resources through lack of alternative income. “Far too often, wildlife destinations focus on the nature and not the community, but our view of sustainable development is conservation with people in it,” he explained.
As well as educating on sustainable farming and helping local people launch social enterprises such as jewellery-making, Crees runs two lodges that are open to tourists. And as of last October, Crees also offers four tours of Manu, led by its own guides and biologists. All departing from Cuzco, these range from a short three-night overland trip ($660pp) to a 10-night “Complete Manu Wildlife Experience” ($3,000pp). UK operators selling the tours include Audley, Steppes, and Journey Latin America.
With support from Crees, there will once again be a 45-minute scheduled flight from Cuzco to Manu from March 28, saving two days of driving, which is key for Manu’s higher-end, time-short visitors. It’s this kind of visitor Crees is keen to attract, said Meyers, and not just for the revenue they generate. “Many of our visitors are people who have influence, and if they develop a relationship with this ecosystem, it can impact on decisions they make back in the UK,” he claimed. “Ambassadors for the rainforest - that’s what we hope to create.”
If Carlsberg made ski resorts, I imagine they’d look rather like Val d’Isere. With picturesque stone and wooden chalets, twinkling Christmas lights, giant snow sculptures and open-fronted cafes serving hot chocolate and mulled wine, I felt like I’d walked into a postcard when I visited the resort in early January.
The first hotel opened in this French village in 1932, and its first ski lift in 1936, but it was after the Second World War that it grew to become one of the world’s best and most popular ski resorts.
It now attracts around 35,000 skiers each year, with a good 10% or more being Mark Warner guests, staying at one of its two hotels in the resort. As Mark Warner’s top-selling resort, the advice is to book early, since peak season sells out quickly.
I stayed at Mark Warner’s Chalet Hotel le Val d’Isere for a week of ski school, and chatted to hotel manager Emma Knights about the resort’s appeal. “Val really does have everything,” she told me. “In addition to great shops, great bars, and great restaurants, it has a huge range of runs for different level-skiers, and when you add in nearby Tigne as well, the ski area is gigantic.”
In fact, Espace Killy (the two resorts combined) likes to describe itself as “the most beautiful skiing area in the world”, and skiers often agree. Val d’Isere is particularly popular with families - a market to which Mark Warner caters well, with its extensive childcare provision.
“Val has lots of other things for families to do apart from skiing too such as husky sleigh rides and ice-skating, and every Thursday they close the street for music and ice-sculpting and stilt-walkers,” Knights pointed out. “So it’s extremely family-friendly.”
Brits make up about 40% of Val d’Isere’s visitors, with the French making up another 40%, though French skiers are turning away from the resort on account of its price-tag. It’s true that Val d’Isere does not come cheap, with only nearby Courchevel and Meribel resorts being more expensive in France.
“Dining out does cost more than you’d ever pay in the UK,” Knights admits. But when guests eat out on Thursday night (the night all hotel staff have off), her top tip is Le Bistrot, “which is good value but also has some of the best food”.
There aren’t many places left in the world where you can still buy a beer for just 70p. As a non-euro country, Bulgaria’s affordability is a certainly a major selling point, but it can mean travellers underestimate the quality of the product, according to specialist operator Balkan Holidays.
I recently caught up with sales and marketing director Rupert Diggins, who explained that the popularity of family-friendly and party-hard resorts like Sunny Beach and Golden Sands belies Bulgaria’s more refined attractions.
“Agents might not have heard of the country’s Unesco-protected towns, such as Nessebar and Sozopol, but these resorts are perfect for clients who want a smaller, quaint resort - but on a budget,” he claimed.
I was only nine when the Yugoslav wars began in 1992, so I don’t recall the boom-time in the Balkans, when Slovenia, Bulgaria and Croatia were some of the UK’s most popular tourism destinations.
Fighting was over by the end of the 90s, but tourism in the region has never fully recovered. Extra airlift and new tour operator programmes have helped Croatia forge ahead in the past couple of years, but Diggins said Bulgaria has just as much to offer.
“Croatia has become fashionable now, but the beaches, nightlife and cultural sites of Bulgaria are just as good, and cheaper,” he said.
Golf is also on the up in Bulgaria, with three top-class courses recently added on the north coast, and the International Association of Golf Tour Operators voting Bulgaria “undiscovered golf destination of the year” in 2012. Balkan Holidays has recently added golf packages to its website to cater to the interest.
Coming top for value for money in the Post Office’s recent Ski Resort Report has also thrown the ski resort of Bansko into the spotlight, and Balkan Holidays’ winter 2012-13 programme is currently selling 10% up on last season. “Hire of skis, ski passes and ski tuition might cost
£400 in Switzerland, but more like £110-£160 in Bulgaria,” Diggins pointed out. And at 70p a pint, you can bet the apres-ski is a damn sight more affordable, too.
Did you know that the tiny island of St Barthelemy in the Caribbean was once a Swedish colony? Its capital Gustavia is named after Swedish King Gustav III, and they ruled it for a few years at the end of the Napoleonic wars. St Barth wasn’t much of a catch back then, by all accounts, since it had no natural water sources and the Swedes almost starved to death. Thankfully, the island is much more hospitable to visitors nowadays, and welcomes 300,000 tourists each year.
This was just some of the history I learned at a St Barth dinner last week, held to celebrate the launch of a new Antigua-St Barth service.
St Barth Commuter already operates charter flights into St Barth from nearby islands, but as of December 1, it now flies scheduled services on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, timed to connect with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic flights to Antigua.
At £485 return, even the scheduled flights have a hefty price-tag, but the typical St Barth clientele is unlikely to be deterred. With only around 2,000 hotel rooms and villas combined, it is one of the smallest and most exclusive islands in the Caribbean. Its two highest profile hotels, Eden Rock and Isle de France, are frequently voted some of the best hotels in the Americas, and the French-speaking island is a popular haunt for the likes of tycoon Roman Abramovich.
St Barth’s attractions are its beaches, boutique hotels, restaurants, yacht facilities and sailing regattas. James Daltrey, of local luxury concierge Premium IV, explained that this made the island different from other Caribbean destinations. “Our strapline is, ‘if you think you know the Caribbean, forget everything’. If you want reggae bars and ziplining and 4x4 adventure, you won’t find it here,” he said.
The new scheduled service from St Barth Commuter joins another scheduled Antigua-St Barth flight launched by Tradewind Aviation in October, meaning St Barth is now far more accessible for the UK market. “The St Barth Commuter flight is scheduled for three times a week, but there is an opportunity to increase the market,” said Ines Bouchant-Choisy, director of St Barth Tourism Committee. “We hope it might eventually become a flight per day.”
While some promotional bodies seek to change consumer perception about a destination, the South Pacific Tourism Organisation wants to cash in on precisely the qualities for which it is known best.
“The South Pacific conjures up ideas of paradise and romance - and that is how we want to lure the consumer in,” explained marketing manager Petero Manufolau at WTM last week.
“Travellers in Europe or America might never have heard of Tuvalu or Vanuatu, but we can lure them with the idea of the South Pacific itself,” he added.
The SPTO was formed in 1986 and represents 14 different countries. WTM 2012 was significant for the organisation as it brought five of the countries together for the first time, under the SPTO umbrella. It’s also an exciting time for the region, with projected growth in tourism of 19% by 2015.
Extra airlift from Los Angeles, and the strong Australian dollar, are helping the South Pacific’s American and Australian markets, while recent visits from both Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall, and Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge generated lots of press here.
With limited budget, we should not expect a major consumer campaign in Britain, he warned. The emphasis will instead be on training agents via an online training course, the South Pacific Specialist Programme.
There are few things more likely to drag me out on a rainy Monday evening than chocolate – and Grenadian chocolate in particular.
I joined the tourist board last week for a screening of a new documentary that challenges the unethical production and trade of cocoa, especially in west Africa, where as many as 20,000 children are forced to farm the beans as slaves.
The film describes how the Grenada Chocolate Company does things differently, using a cooperative to produce the chocolate “from bean to bar”, eliminating exploitation.
You can find out more about the film at nothinglikechocolate.com, and your clients can (like I did), visit the tiny factory (below) in Grenada to see the cocoa beans being turned into rich, unadulterated dark chocolate.
Make sure they leave space in their suitcase; I could only squeeze in a dozen bars which was simply not enough!
When a passenger on a flight to the UK asked Glen Beache if St Vincent and the Grenadines was in the Middle East, the boss of the SVG Tourism Authority took this as a sign his awareness campaign is working.
“A few years ago, four or five people on the flight would have asked me that, so to have only one ask means we’re getting the message out‚” the chief executive of the tourist board joked when I met him in London last week.
With SVG’s profile now higher, and as construction of the new Argyle International airport nears completion, the government must now focus on attracting carriers to the destination.
At the Routes aviation conference this week, Beache will continue talks with airlines, with the hope they will fly to SVG from March 2014. “We’d like to confirm at least one carrier flying twice per week from America, Britain and Canada, and we should know for sure by the end of March,” he explained.
He described the new airport, being built at a cost of $240 million, as a “game-changer‚” for SVG, making it easier for tourists to reach the islands.
Two new hotels have already been confirmed on Bequia, and a $100 million investment in Canouan Island Resort and the Grenadine Estate Villas by the team behind Sandy Lane in Barbados, will help the destination prepare for the influx of visitors.
“But we aren’t interested in mass tourism,” the tourism boss insisted. “We offer the Caribbean you are looking for, like it used to be 40 years ago,” he added.
SVG is shortly to launch “The Liming Appreciation Society” to generate a social media buzz around SVG’s culture of relaxing and partying. Consumers will be able to learn what the locals eat and drink when they lime, and asked to share their own experiences of liming in SVG.
It certainly seems that SVG locals love to party: Beache described a “crisis” three years ago when St Vincent’s rum factory ran out of molasses. The cost per bottle tripled within days because of the shortage, and when fresh molasses finally arrived, a street party followed the truck all the way to the factory!
Grenadian Kirani James was one of the real heroes of the Olympics, winning the country’s first ever gold medal, for his victory in the men’s 400 metres.
The runner, who was born in Gouyave, joined dignitaries and other notable guests like Grenadian footballer Jason Roberts for a celebratory reception at Grenada Olympic House in London following his win (see photos).
James also met Margaret Noel, a Grenadian ex-pat who lives in Queen’s Park and was an Olympic torch-bearer for Ealing, in recognition of her charity work.
The tourist board hopes that James’ achievement has put Grenada in the spotlight and will encourage people to visit the island.
“Grenada’s performance, including Kirani James winning the island’s first Olympic Gold Medal in the four hundred metres, has boosted our profile in the UK, encouraging tourism interest,” said Sharon Bernstein, Grenada Board of Tourism general manager UK & Ireland.
Grenadians have another reason to be grateful to the 19-year-old medal winner: August 7, the day after James’ victory, has been declared a half-day national holiday!
Source: Photo: Alex Minton
Imagine an enchanted garden filled with a blizzard of hummingbirds. A tiny monkey with a shock of white hair that must surely have been the inspiration for Spielberg’s Gremlins (pictured below). A rare blue lizard the colour of a cloudless sky, and a colossal tarantula that grows up to 24 centimetres across.
This was the Colombia that I heard wildlife film producer Nigel Marven describe at a tourist board-organised event last week, just weeks after he returned from filming a four-part series on the country, to be aired in November.
In a sneak preview of the series, we saw Marven enjoy Colombia’s vibrant Barranquilla Carnival (pictured right), which is second in size only to Rio Carnival, let a tarantula crawl over his hand and be bitten by a tree boa.
Marven, who has worked on wildlife documentaries like The Life of Birds, said what makes Colombia so appealing for nature-lovers is the accessibility of the wildlife.
“What I love about my job is showing people things they’ve never seen before, and in Colombia there are just so many spectacles,” he explained.
Marven gave a presentation about his experience as part of Colombia Tourist Board’s month-long residency at the National Geographic Store in London.
Juan Perez, UK director of Proexport Colombia, said 2012 has seen the tourist board’s first major investment in consumer promotion, with a month of events at the National Geographic Store and Harrods, as well as adverts on the London Underground.
Source: Photo: Alex Minton
“For the first five years, our strategy was to make sure we had a good network of UK operators featuring Colombia, but now it is time for a consumer push, so that consumers are asking for Colombia,” he explained. Colombia’s stand at WTM this year is to be twice the size of last year, and the country’s colonial towns are being promoted as a particular product of interest.
Perez reported that UK arrivals to Colombia were 40% up in 2011, compared to the previous year, which he attributed to the British traveller’s desire to try new places.
But visitors needn’t go to the lengths of letting a tarantula crawl up their arm or have a snake bite their face on order to experience Colombia, Marven was quick to point out. Not unless they want to.
Type “Falkland Islands” into Google, and stories about conflict with Argentina tend to dominate the search results. But the islands’ new tourism chief hopes to change that, by educating agents, attracting more visitors, and putting out “a positive message” about just what the islands can offer.
I quizzed Tony Mason, who flies out to the British Overseas Territory next month to take up his post as managing director of the tourist board, on what he hopes to achieve.
“The Falkland Islands have such incredible wildlife – 220 species of bird, 50% of the world’s albatrosses, countless seals, dolphins and whales. There’s been all this focus on the tension with Argentina but I want to get it back to travel and to the fantastic things the destination has to offer,” he explained.
The tourist board has targetted growth of 12% by the end of 2012, taking total arrivals to 57,000, and growth of 30-40% in 2013.
Cruise ships will account for more than 60% of this year’s arrivals, and Mason hopes to attract greater cruise capacity as well as boosting land-tourism.
Encouraging agents to sell the Falkland Islands will be key to growing this, Mason confirmed, with a new website, an online training programme and a trade fam trip all in the pipeline.
Most accommodation is concentrated in the capital city of Stanley, with homestays and camping on some of the other 740-plus islands that make up the archipelago. “We’re working on new lodges that are higher-end compared to the existing accommodation,” he said. “And in addition to our existing operators such as Cox & Kings and G Adventures, I’m looking to approach the likes of Expedia and Hotelbeds to get our hotels listed, so that people know we’re here,” he added. A lack of choice in land-packages is also to be remedied. “We hope to have a nice meaty range of offerings, like eight-day wildlife tours and battlefields-themed tours, ready by the end of the year,” he claimed.
If clients are hoping to bump into Prince William, who was stationed on the Falklands for a few weeks earlier this year, they will be disappointed, as he has since returned to the UK. But they can go one better than a “prince” if they do visit, by spotting one of the 1,000 pairs of beautiful King penguins (right) that call the Falklands home.
If roasted guinea pig is the only Peruvian cuisine you’ve heard much about, you’re in for a big surprise. The country, and its capital Lima in particular, is fast being recognised as one of the world’s top culinary destinations. To celebrate the launch of its daily Lima flight from the UK, Air Europa hosted an event at London’s hottest new Peruvian restaurant, Ceviche.
There I met Ceviche’s founder Martin Morales, a Lima-born chef and entrepreneur who is on a mission to bring the flavours, sounds and culture of Peru to the world’s attention. Morales explained that influences from Peru’s indigenous Inca people, blended with migrants from China, Africa, Italy and Japan, have created a varied and unique cuisine. “It is as sophisticated as French, as spicy as Indian and as aromatic as Thai,” he claimed.
The star attraction on his menu is a variety of ceviches - the freshest fish and seafood cured by marinading in freshly-squeezed lime juice and Peruvian chilli, and no visit to his restaurant is complete without enjoying at least one pisco sour - Peru’s national drink mixed with egg white, lime juice, sugar and bitters.
It was interesting to hear how much Morales has seen Lima change in the last decade, gaining new restaurants and shopping centres, and with many of its historic areas being restored. “Lima has gone through a tough transition - for so many years it was like a closed flower, but now it has opened its petals and is full of colour and brightness,” he said.
The buzz about the city has also seen it grow to become Air Europa’s top-selling long-haul route from the UK (via Madrid), up from fourth place. The carrier launched Gatwick-Lima flights back in 2010, but the connections at Madrid only allowed for three flights per week.
“We’ve now changed the schedule so that there’s a connection time of less than three and a half hours at Madrid every evening, for the evening flight to Lima,” explained Air Europa’s UK general manager Colin Stewart. “And with a lead-in fare of £563 in the off-peak season, it’s proving incredibly popular.” A tasty fare indeed!
South Africa began to pioneer responsible tourism 18 years ago, when the concept was still unfamiliar to many in the industry. In 1996, it became the first country in the world to build responsible tourism into governmental policy, and the country played host to the very first Responsible Tourism in Destinations (RTD) conference in 2002. Last year, I was excited to report on the launch of the UK’s first fully fair trade certified holiday package, created by Kuoni in conjunction with Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa.
So it was great to hear at the sixth RTD conference, titled Taking Responsibility for Tourism, in London last month that South Africa’s commitment to responsible tourism is as strong as ever. The deputy minister for tourism, Tokozile Xasa, outlined a new National Tourism Sector Strategy, which she hopes will grow the country’s tourism sector to become one of the top 20 in the world by 2020, while still safeguarding the nation’s people and environment.
She also described a new National Strategy for Responsible Tourism, which aims to ensure tourism brings even more benefit to local communities. I was interested to learn about some of the country’s best examples of responsible tourism in action, such as Grootbos Private Nature Reserve, where local people are trained in landscape-gardening and supported in growing fresh produce that the reserve can buy back, and where guests can go on flower safaris, join responsible whale-watching and shark-diving excursions, or even work as a volunteer on one of the reserve’s community or conservation projects.
Marine Dynamics, meanwhile, is one of only 12 operators with a permit to run cage-diving excursions with great white sharks in South Africa. The company has been applauded for its emphasis on conservation education, and for its commitment to employing local, disadvantaged people. Of course, the fact that responsible principles now underpin so many of South Africa’s tourism products is not just good news for the country’s people. It also adds authenticity, uniqueness and quality to the visitor experience - ensuring that your clients have the best holiday possible and come back to book with you again.