The traditional line at the Caribbean Tourism Organization's annual State of the Industry Conference is that the 30-some member destinations need to work together, overcome bureaucratic obstacles, and reach the region's full tourism potential. Thursday morning's keynote speech in St. Thomas was no different, but also emphasized touting each island's distinct offerings.
Alex Zozaya, CEO of Apple Leisure Group, pulled no punches in addressing the Caribbean's many opportunities for improvement. He said any other tourist destination in the world would love to be as close to the North American market as the Caribbean, and gave examples of how Spain marketed itself successfully to grab a larger-than-its-share portion of European travels, and their euros.

To long haul tourists coming from China, Russia, Brazil, Spain advertises itself as a whole. To more discerning tourists closer to home, such as in Germany and Scandinavia, Spain advertises specific towns and villages, each with their unique attractions and offerings and culture.

“When things begin to look all the same, they begin to look like a commodity. And then the only difference is the price; and then we're in trouble,” Zozaya said. Of Caribbean destinations, Mexico and Jamaica have been best at this. “Jamaica has been very successful because they have been very consistent in their marketing different towns and their island as a whole.”

The conference continues Thursday with sessions on public-private partnerships, using Big Data and other new technologies to understand and predict tourist behavior, and a session on breaking down some of the Caribbean's bureaucratic airlift problems.