Bridging the GAP
- June 27th, 2011
- in Yachting
Bridging the GAP
With its hundreds of rivers, lush and dramatic landscape, and inviting local population, the intriguing ecotourism destination acts as a well-kept secret from the generic traveler. But word on the location’s beautiful bounties is fast reaching the wider market—one full of ambitions but skeptical about travel options.
The push in large part is driven by a forward and collaborative campaign from tourism stakeholders—both private and public—looking to bring visitors in to replenish a thirsty local economy. In Dominica, the tourism industry, now in its infancy form compared to most Caribbean islands, is striving for a more viable and accessible product. On the other hand, Dominica’s economic mainstay, agriculture, is on a detrimental decline. Recent tourism statistics suggests that the “nature island” is benefiting from a budding economic pillar in tourism, full of promising potential. But in order for that product to mature to the point of producing sustainable profit margins, officials there understand that more options need to be explored to make the destination an accessible option among its Caribbean competitors.
In May, regional flight provider Windward Islands Airways (WinAir) announced they would cease operation to the island, dealing a blow to their overnight visitor business. For potential regional travelers who previously benefited from reasonable flights from the BVI to Dominica, the decision to travel often swayed due to extended flight times and unreasonable ticket prices. However, later that month, faced with the void of a regional air provider, government officials there met with BVI Airways CEO Luke Smith, who recently inked a deal with the local air travel provider. By early last month the company was offering three weekly flights to and three from Dominica.
I recently spoke about the tourism situation with Colin Piper, the CEO and director of tourism for the Discover Dominica Authority. Well aware of the importance of access to the island, the tourism CEO spoke of a crucial crux to the industry. “Airlift is critical to our tourism product,” Piper said. “It has been recognized here in Dominica and in other Caribbean islands that there is a direct correlation between increased capacity and visitor arrival numbers.” Consequently, as accessibility increases among the region, air travel prices tend to drop, he added. “We know from past experience that with additional capacity also comes market competition, namely lower prices, which ultimately is beneficial and more attractive to the potential visitor, as they spend less money on airfares.”
I recently revisited Dominica with the BVI Airways CEO, who made the hour-and-fifteen-minute one-way trek to his admitted favourite Caribbean island, his main objective to solidify his most recent destination partnership. I similarly traveled the island with hopes of forming new bonds with potential clients. Smith also knows well the importance of reaching out to a global clientele. With regular flights now scheduled to Dominica, St Maarten and Anguilla, and chartered flights throughout the region, the veteran pilot says he’s now placing importance on reaching an international market with his growing flight schedule. Currently, the airliner CEO is moving ahead with a global distribution system, which allows travel agents from around the world to access and book regional travel through their company. “So, it’s like you’re in, say, Shanghai, and you want to go to Dominica—then you can look us up and book us online, just like that,” he said. “Everything we’ve done has been in small yet carefully thought out steps. … But this is a bigger step—it’s about getting out in the world and doing what we need to do.”
Smith’s ultimate goal is to become a leader in air travel throughout the region, bringing together markets and partnerships along the way. “And in Dominica, it’s really clear, because they say—OK, what’s it going to take?” He added of their proactive approach to the market.
During our most recent overnight trip, I met with Eddie Savarin, a local tour and taxi company operator. Not surprisingly, Savarin spoke optimistically of a regional tourism partnership. The prospect of bringing in travelers throughout the region—especially during the looming low season—remained high on his list of sustainability tactics.
We stayed in Dominica’s capitol city Rousseau during our brief weekend trip, its developing centre a stark contrast to the overgrown coasts and rainforest preserves we were used to during our last trip. However, a short drive south from the small city, through a spackling of tiny fishing villages, we found ourselves at Champagne Reef, one of Dominica’s many prided natural treasures. The exotic and renowned dive and snorkel spot brims a rock and pebble beachfront, and seems to fall off map with a dramatic 60-foot reef cliff at a short distance from shore. Naturalyl occurring bubbles spit through seabed and corals; schools of fish and squid swim among its unreal aquarium effect. After a couple of short hours snorkeling the surreal site, it was once again time to leave.
I’ve barely begun to experience all that Dominica has to offer, but I’m well aware that each destination on its map has so far been equally painful to leave. I’ve had a few friends visit after hearing me trumpet the island’s offerings, and they also have become ambassadors after departing. It’s easy to see how the island will soon reap the benefits from a healthy tourism product. And with the abundance of options within the island, I can’t imagine it becoming spoiled. Until next time, Dominica will beckon, now more than ever at arm’s reach.