In early June, ATTA President Shannon Stowell attended Caribbean Week in New York City where he met with tourism officials, media, and spoke to a select audience of travel agents and destination representatives about adventure travel potential in the region. As a result of attending the show, the ATTA anticipates exciting opportunities to unfold within the Caribbean region as our organization’s membership grows and expands.
An important part of the discussion in all settings was reiterating the definition of adventure travel as that which includes a physical activity, an encounter in nature and a cultural experience. “The Caribbean has unique adventure travel experiences to offer, and the industry – both suppliers and buyers – need to understand what that opportunity is and how to make it a reality,” said Fernando Abreu, Deputy Director of Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). “That is why we asked Shannon to attend and educate us on adventure products and opportunities. Both the travel agents and the Caribbean government representatives were very pleased with having Shannon as the speaker for our workshop.”
As well as sharing current adventure tourism trends such as the blending of luxury and adventure product, increasing demand for experiential, local and immersive trips and customization, and multi-generational travel, Stowell shared the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the nations of the Caribbean to embrace and promote adventure tourism as an economic benefactor to the region. One challenge is that adventure tourism is not well understood: In a Google image search for “Caribbean Adventure” a third of the results do depict nature, culture and activities, but the remaining results include city shots, resorts, poker tournaments and Sesame Street characters. Another challenge is that there’s no clear centralizing organization nor marketing of adventure travel. It’s clear to the industry that there is an over-reliance on packaged travel (sun/sand, cruise and resort), and health and safety issue perceptions in some destinations – both real and imagined. While cultural immersions are a high priority for adventure travelers, Caribbean adventure product is still pigeonholed as adrenaline-pumping activities.
The presentation resonated with Kay Showker, award-winning author of titles such as The Outdoor Travelers Guide to the Caribbean and Jamaica – Naturally, A Guide for Today’s Active Traveler: “I’ve been writing outdoor adventure books for thirty years. I am pleased that the CTO and others are finally recognizing the Adventure Travel potential which the Caribbean has and was delighted to hear Shannon underscore this. Based on the brand new study he shared about what Adventure Travel means to today’s vacationers and who the Adventure Travel audience is, I agree that both travel agents and government tourist offices should make use of the ATTA’s educational tools and experience in marketing Adventure Travel to attract outdoor enthusiasts.”
On the other side of the coin, there are many opportunities to innovate and give back to local communities like ATTA member Runners Adventures does with their “VIP Safari” tours in the Dominican Republic. Stowell stressed that governmental organizations need to believe in the strategy of low-impact, high-value adventure travel versus high volume mass travel that many Caribbean nations rely on. ATTA member Trinidad & Tobago are doing this effectively with their campaigns in Kuoni catalogs and more.
Ultimately, agents need to understand how to profitably sell this kind of travel experience. Armed with education, they will be able to convey the meaningful stories and life-changing experiences that adventure travel can have on travelers and their families in the Caribbean.
Stowell’s meetings throughout the week included an exchange of ideas about adventure tourism in the Caribbean with Hugh Riley, Secretary General of the CTO; tourism officials representing nations such as Jamaica and the Bahamas; Karen Bevans, the new Minister of Tourism & Culture from Belize to discuss ongoing partnership opportunities and others. “I also enjoyed learning about the more remote destinations like Martinique and Grenada – there are some very special islands and people in the Caribbean,” reports Stowell “and we look forward to forging new relationships there to aid in the growth of adventure tourism.”