THE BUSINESS OF TOURISM - Time to promote tourism to diaspora achievers
David Jessop, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
Much of the recent emphasis by the Jamaican Government and others in relation to the Caribbean's sizeable diaspora in North America and Europe, has been on finding ways to encourage an interest in national development projects.
The idea has been that the region's community overseas might invest in productive enterprises rather than, as is now largely the case, homes for retirement, small family enterprises, or small start-ups utilising skills obtained overseas.
However, there are signs that the Government's approach may be changing in ways that recognise the growing diversity of the diaspora and place a greater emphasis on tourism as the driver of interest.
Speaking about this recently in Greece at the World Tourism Forum Lucerne Think Tank, Jamaica's Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said that as the diaspora population grew and acquired substantial financial assets, an opportunity would arise to encourage some in this category to make investments in tourism.
"Our agencies will aggressively court partnerships with the diasporic communities and provide incentive structures to leverage their investment in accommodations, entertainment events, transportation, food and beverage, booking and sales services, and other small businesses that are linked to the tourism sector," he said.
It is also the case that the increasing diversity of the Caribbean's communities overseas may offer new marketing opportunities for tourism.
There is already a well-established and important diaspora travel business, the so-called VFR market. This involves many in the region's community overseas making often lengthy stays with friends or relatives, and visits home for important family events. So significant has this market become that, for example, in 2016 Jamaica reported that of the 210,000 overall visitors it received from the UK, 26 per cent were in the VFR category; an increase of nearly 19 per cent on 2015, and representing 11 per cent of all the country's visitor arrivals.
wider travel market
However, what is only just beginning to be understood is that there is a much wider diaspora travel market that the region has largely failed to address. This is because it has not widely understood that the Caribbean's overseas community is no longer homogenous and there is a need to explore how best to attract as tourists those in the diaspora who have succeeded economically, intermarried, become assimilated, or have come to play roles that are remote from those who migrated.
Put another way, there are now tens of thousands of successful individuals in the diaspora, including millennials, whose connections to the region are attenuating. Typically, this group is relatively well off and taking one or more long- or short-haul vacations annually with their families and friends.
Attracting such visitors requires a very different marketing strategy. One that speaks to heritage, family, ancestry and experiences, allied to all else that a country is selling to travellers - from beaches to quality hotels.
Interestingly, the Voice newspaper, Britain's only publication aimed at the Caribbean and African community, has recognised the opportunity and is to launch a travel magazine in print and online, targeting Caribbean and African travellers.
It notes that this category of visitor has been highly under-represented in the UK travel market through irrelevant travel offerings, despite being a growing market segment.
In order to obtain a greater understanding, the publication collaborated with a travel industry specialist to survey over 1,500 Caribbean and African diaspora travellers resident in Britain. What its interim research showed was that diaspora millennials were leading the way with 48 per cent of respondents in this category travelling overseas, with many seeking cultural experiences when they do so. It suggested that this group was particularly brand aware and required greater focus by those in the industry seeking to boost their revenue streams and new markets.
Unfortunately, there is little detailed socio-economic research about how the Caribbean's overseas communities are changing.
Some Caribbean companies, for example those engaged in selling product to the Caribbean community and seeking mainstream crossover or those that provide money-transfer services for remittances, are undertaking market research. However, there is, more generally, little reliable socio-economically categorised information about the evolution of the region's diaspora and the nature of their economic activity.
What is needed is a properly researched understanding of what now constitutes and motivates the many different parts of the Caribbean's overseas communities and how this might relate in future to tourism.