World Investment News (WI): There is a fierce competition in the region in order to become the preferred tourism destination; what makes Grenada unique and how do you wish to position the country internationally?
Hon. Clarice Modeste-Curwen (CM): You are right, there is a fierce competition, but I would like to also point out that a remarkable collaboration exists in the region; there have been things that we have done individually and there are certain projects that are better done collectively. Although in the region we are all similar nations and islands, each of us has its particularities and niches, and something special to offer to tourists.
Statistics shows that we are progressively becoming a sought after destination and we expect more growth in 2019 and coming years, in part thanks to the cruise industry. We try to attend to all major tourism events and fairs, and the cruise ship industry is critical for our economy and the sector's growth. As I said, our numbers have grown almost 13 per cent from 2017 to 2018, and the question arises if this growth was a consequence of the aftermath of the Maria Hurricane, which rendered some destinations incapable of receiving visitors. At the beginning of 2019, when some of these destinations had recovered, we have still seen sustainable growth in the tourism numbers in Grenada, so we must obviously be doing something right. This brings me back to the unique qualities of the different destinations in the region.
Grenada, as you must have heard, is known as the Isle of Spice, which goes in line with our "Pure Grenada" marketing approach. We have a number of spices, which are important to the country's gastronomy and the tourism industry as a whole. Nutmeg, cocoa and cinnamon for example are well known for their health benefits, as international researches have shown. We are taking many measures with regards to safeguarding our natural wonders and resources in line with our "Pure Grenada" strategy; an example is the ban of Styrofoam and plastic products. We are also making great efforts to clean up our beaches and other tourist points, which is extremely important to us, for a significant part of Grenada still remains natural and untouched, comprising an integral part of our Heritage.
All of these things contribute to the uniqueness and growth of our tourism industry. We maintain and regard very jealously our rainforests, which place Grenada among the top countries in the world for botanical tourism. Grenada is among the few countries in the world where you can go from sandy white beaches to an authentic rainforest in a mere ten minutes. All these different ingredients contribute to the country's uniqueness and greatness, and we are working hard to build on these advantages and differences, and maintain them for future generations and for the growth and consolidation of our tourism sector.
Another important point I would like to highlight is the hospitality, friendliness and warmth of our people, and this is something that tourists usually point out. They feel welcome, they feel comfortable, and obviously the safety and peace that exist here, contribute to this feeling.
WI: What are your strategies and priorities for the development of the tourism sector?
CM: I have always been fascinated and interested in the whole community tourism concept. I believe that unless we can have the tourism sectors' benefits trickling down to the rural areas, we cannot boast of having tourism serve the people, which is our ultimate goal. Since my appointment as Minister of Tourism this has been my driving priority, it still has not reached the traction I would have hoped for, but more and more our team and people are realising that this is the trend we have to follow.
Grenada is well known for its Grand Anse beach and we do have other impressive beaches that vary from the white sand of Grand Anse to black sand beaches, which we have learned, have their own health benefits. Therefore, while we have focused in the past on our white sand beaches, we are currently working on promoting our black sand beaches as well; for people are now interested in health tourism. If certain black beaches hold minerals that are conducive to health, people will go there.
We offer tourists a different type of tourism, from health tourism to adventure tourism, and a lot of our natural wonders and resources - which attract visitors - are found within our communities. We have found out, and our feedback suggests, that travellers like very much the Grenadian experience, the interaction with the locals, and a fair amount of tourists - especially from the cruise ships - will be found visiting and interacting in our communities. They want to feel the people, the vibes, the country, and visiting our communities is the best way to do this.
My dream is now fast becoming a reality. We have made many efforts in this regard. We have done external consultancies, we have brainstormed and inter consulted, at government level, and at the private sector level, in order to see what we can do to create memorable experiences, so tourists can have an enjoyable and unique visit.
This is one of the aspects on which we are currently working. We have community groups that are interested in preserving our heritage, not just the infrastructural heritage, but the cultural as well. This goes from music, drumbeating, dances, gastronomy, etc. This approach is still in infancy stage, but it has taken off and has huge potential. Our next step is to improve the adventure tourism activities; we want to expand them, from the zip lines and canopies in the rainforest, to the hikes in the mountains and waterfalls sites.
Thanks to Airbnb and local housing rentals, more of our visitors are now staying in the rural communities than before. For this reason we are now creating activities in these areas, so our tourists can enjoy themselves and find activities to do in all areas of the island. This is made possible thanks to our road network, which connects all points and communities in the island. What we have recently done, with the assistance of our consultants, is to package our tours, which is helping to improve our offerings..
WI: How is the infrastructure being modernized in order to cater for the growing number of tourists?
CM: Our airport facilities is the first infrastructural modernization I would like to point out. We are working with a Chinese company, which has a contract to upgrade our international airport. We are also considering constructing a hotel in the area.
We are also working to improve our road infrastructure, because even though our road network is very good, its maintenance remains a challenge. Our tourism numbers are growing and will continue to grow exponentially; however, in order to generate additional income, and enchance a sustainable growth, we have to look at our infrastructures, their expansion and modernization.
When we speak of infrastructure modernization and expansion, it is necessary that we talk about accommodation, which has been one of our major hurdles in attracting more airlift to the destination. Because accommodation is intrinsically linked to airlift, we need a certain number of rooms in order to attract more flights. I would like single out our renowned Silversands Hotel, and the Sandals Resort for the excellent job in marketing and attracting visitors. Boutique hotels such as the luxurious Calabash are receiving a number of accolades, and the Grenada Spice Island Beach Resort has received just about every hospitality award that exists for this reason we are pleased with the growing number of hotel rooms either completed or under construction.
In terms of new hotels, we have the Kimpton Kawana Bay Resort that is under construction in the south of the island, the luxurious Six Senses Resort in La Sagesse, and a Hyatt branded hotel will also be coming shortly. Apart from these new constructions and modernizations, a number of smaller hotels are also in the process of upgrading.
During the Carnival season which is in August we realised that we did not have enough rooms to me the demands; even which Airbnb rooms and apartments, and the small and larger hotels. On previous Carnivals seasons, we have seen a 20 percent increase in bookings. Grenada's Carnival has positioned itself as a leader in this type of festival. And since our Carnival is in August, we can attract many new visitors who would otherwise be unable to come. Our Carnival is another aspect that makes us unique.
WI: What can you tell us about the Sino-Grenadian partnership, and what other areas of tourism present opportunities for collaboration?
CM: When talking about attracting large source markets such as China, it is important to point out that it would not be easy to entertain a direct flight from China to Grenada, so we must look at the region as a whole. This is an important area where we can collaborate between nations in the region.
A year ago, a team from China visited us to see potential areas for collaboration in the aviation sector, and although there is no easy solution to the problem of airlift connectivity into Grenada from China, there are good options and potential opportunities. With good will - which has always existed between Grenada and China - I am sure something will happen.
Obviously, travellers prefer direct flights to their destinations rather than to codeshare between airlines and flights. But when they come to the Caribbean and have the opportunity to see multiple destinations, it changes their whole perspective.
This is what we can collectively provide for them, a similar experience but very unique in its own way. Take advantage of being in one of the most beautiful regions in the world, and visit and experience different neighbouring countries' uniqueness and wonders. This is where we must all work together so we can provide something different and exciting to international travellers.