Richard Doumeng, President, Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association
By Brian Major
September 06, 2012 11:45 PM
Richard Doumeng’s first year as president of Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) comes during an uneven period for regional destinations. The good news is reflected in a recent PKF Hospitality Research report, which found a 10 percent operating income increase for Caribbean hotels in 2011. The bad news was pointed out in July by Doumeng’s immediate predecessor as CHTA president, Josef Forstmayr, who said a key impediment to the Caribbean’s growth is a “total lack of a comprehensive, user-friendly transportation network,” which he said cost Caribbean destinations more one million visitors between 2006 and 2010. We spoke with Doumeng, who also serves as president and managing director of Bolongo Bay Beach Resort on St. Thomas, about his outlook for the CHTA and Caribbean tourism as a whole.
What have you focused on in your first few months as CHTA president? One of the first initiatives I am focusing on is providing support for the Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC), which is jointly owned by the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and CHTA, and is a huge opportunity for us. It is penny wise and pound foolish in hard times to be isolationist. Let’s put a slight percentage of our dollars together to encourage folks to come into the region, and then we can fight over where they are going to stay.
Are regional governments providing the framework to support tourism? It is still a challenge to get governments to understand tourism is part of the solution and not the problem. Beyond that we are all challenged to get financing, to get resources, time and someone to lead the fight. So I have tried to concentrate on where we can focus on the areas where almost everyone can benefit.Initially we have focused on revamping the CTDC website and on re-establishing the Caribbean as a brand. The website will feature advanced searching capabilities to make it easy to find Caribbean resorts, hoteliers, restaurants and attractions. The site will feature branded micro-sites for all 33 of our member countries. Each country will have a basic page and can pay to enhance their sites. Countries also will pay for on-site booking.
What are your expectations for the enhanced site? I think we can get some little victories. The website will offer tracking, and it will be easier to convince stakeholders that the initiative has value. Everyone is cutting back so it is a very tricky time to get any government to promote the brand.
To what do you attribute your home destination’s strong visitor numbers in recent years? The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism has worked hard to establish new tourism sources. For example the Texas market for the U.S.V.I. is bigger in the summertime than the winter, because it’s hotter in Texas than in the U.S.V.I. at that time. We call it “gap” marketing. Our department of tourism is smart and identified that as a market to go after. For the Virgin Islands to have had a private-sector businessman as governor and a tourism professional and hotelier (USVI Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty) as tourism minister, we have been extraordinarily lucky. We have a lot to be thankful for.
Brian Major is executive editor covering the Caribbean and Latin America for TravelPulse.com.