CTO Graces Snowy Ottawa With Sunny News

By Peter Johansen

Ottawa’s first snow of the season fell Wednesday night—a fact Nancy Drolet didn’t let pass unnoticed.

Alice Brackhahn of Bytown Travel picks up brochures from Deborah Gilharry-Arana,
Senior Travel Trade Officer, Belize Tourism Board.

“It’s warmer in the Caribbean,” quipped the Canadian business development rep for the Caribbean Tourism Office, as she kicked off an information-packed dinner for travel advisors at the capital’s historic Hunt and Golf Club. Photos and videos of several destinations, a Caribbean feast, and plenty of humour helped keep minds off the descent into winter.

Andrew Phillips, Assistant Director of Sales for Canada, St. Vincent & the
Grenadines Tourism Office, was one of five representatives at a CTO event in Ottawa.

With two dozen nations and territories under CTO’s umbrella, Drolet said, advisors can offer clients a diverse range of products. “Rest and relaxation, spas and wellness, golf, water sports, weddings and honeymoons, ecotourism, adventure, festivals, shopping, and more,” she noted, adding that the region’s four language groups allow clients places that match their linguistic comfort levels.

In fact, just one of those elements, festivals, made that diversity clear. From Music festivals, arts festivals to sports events which focus on everything from kite surfing. Ninja, cricket and paddle boarding.  “There’s even a mango festival on Nevis,” Drolet said. “That’s one I’ve always wanted to go to.” 

Emma Moxley  of TPI and Sekou Stroude, Director of Sales for Canada,
Grenada Tourism Authority, smile for Open Jaw.

One reason for growing popularity of these events is the drive for authenticity in travel, she said:  “These festivals are put on by locals for locals.  So when your clients attend them, they’re mixing with locals and seeing things through their eyes.”

She suggested that advisors build departures around special annual events, listed in a regularly updated brochure on CTO’s website. 

Another focus of her remarks was the astonishing diversity of villas across the region, representing a US $170 billion industry by year’s end.  They range from one-bedroom properties to Grenada’s Calvigny Villa, with an astonishing 25 bedrooms.  “I know some of you do corporate travel, and this would be perfect for a business meeting, for example,” she noted.

Lisa Jones, TTAND, is immersed in a virtual reality look at Dominica,
thanks to Discover Dominica’s Canadian representative, Jerry 

“If you become knowledgeable about villas, you can offer clients something different from your competitors down the street.”  And she noted that these guests have a high satisfaction rate which leads to repeat bookings.

Short talks by each of five destination reps gave advisors takeaways such as these:

Barbados, on the far east side of the Caribbean is well out of the hurricane belt.  “The last major hurricane to hit us was in 1955,” noted Jason Yearwood,  BDM (Canada) for Barbados Tourism Marketing. With year-round flights from YYZ and new AC winter flights from YUL, clients can enjoy “all the trappings of indulgence” on the Platinum West Coast or opt for boutique properties along the south.  As the birthplace of rum, there’s rich history here, and the island boasts the highest percentage of returning guests in the region, Yearwood said.

Belize, CTO’s only non-island member, claims the largest barrier reef in the western hemisphere and the world’s largest number of Mayan sites, said Deborah Gilharry-Arana, the country’s Senior Travel Trade Officer. It’s also the most culturally diverse nation in Central America, she said.  Air access is good, with AC resuming seasonal service next month and WJ recently adding two flights weekly.  

Dominica—not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, insisted Jerry Grymek, its Canadian representative—is a destination for nature lovers. After all, there are 365 rivers (“one for every day of the year”), whale-watching, the Caribbean’s first long-distance hiking trail, hunting for sea turtles and sperm whales, and horseback riding (introduced by a woman who moved to the island from Guelph, Ontario).  The island’s new properties reflect that concern with nature: Jungle Bay Eco Villas, for example, features everything from a gravity-propelled water feeder to low lighting to protect wildlife.

Chatting before dinner are (left to right) Donna LaHaise McDougall,
McCord Travel Management; Lisa Jones, TTAND; and Dave Harper, TTAND.

Grenada, hugging the Venezuelan coast, can be booked anytime because it’s safely outside the hurricane belt. Sekou Stroude, Director of Sales for Canada, said this means it’s a good place for yachting.  Divers will enjoy its 50-plus dive sites and 20 wrecks, while snorkelers can explore the hundred sculptures comprising the world’s first underwater sculpture garden.  Noting that the country also incorporates the smaller islands of Carriacou and Petite Martinique, Stroude said Grand Anse Beach has been named the world’s best by Conde Nast Traveler.  AC is adding a Tuesday flight from YYZ.

St. Vincent and the Grenadines’ Andrew Phillips, Assistant Director of Sales (Canada),  had the audience in stitches as he described the privacy of some of the country’s less populated islands, such as Tobago Cays: “I can’t tell you what I did there, but it was wonderful.”  More seriously, he pointed out that this destination is also popular with yachters because of calm waters, while everyone can enjoy coral beaches and turquoise waters.  He didn’t shy away from noting that some of the 32 islands, such as Mustique and Canouan , are popular with the rich-and-famous, but there’s an option for every budget.

Nancy Drolet, the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s Business Development
Representative for Canada, thanks the Caribbean-born chefs at Ottawa’s Hunt and Golf Club.

All this was dished up as the 50 or so advisors dined on a Caribbean-influenced menu that included fried plantain, Barbados-style potato salad, rice and peas, Jamaican beef patties and Trinidad style kingfish. Ottawa was the third in the team’s four-city tour of eastern Ontario. Other stops included Peterborough, Belleville and Kingston.

Peter Johansen

Peter Johansen Ottawa Correspondent

Hurtling down an Olympic bobsled run. Falling off a camel in Rajasthan. Scarfing back 40 butter tarts along the Northumberland Butter Tart Tour. Is there anything Peter Johansen won't do for a travel story? Even so, the retired Carleton University journalism professor hopes his stint as Ottawa correspondent won't pose any danger.

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