Multi-destination tourism is being touted as a major part of the strategy the Caribbean must embrace going forward, one of the tools that will make the region more resilient. Chukka Caribbean Adventures knows a thing or two about that. According to CEO Marc Melville, the diversity of their operation put them in a much better position to bounce back from the novel coronavirus pandemic.
As Melville noted, recovery has been uneven across the region and this has implications for Chukka’s bottom line.
“Most people who are not in the industry think, ‘Oh yeah, man, tourism is back and COVID is over’. But that’s not exactly how it happened. It happened in many different forms, at many different speeds and in many different ways. And were we positioned in [only] one location, we would have had a much harder time to come back,” he told the Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
“But diversification allowed us to make the best of each situation. A rising tide lifts all ships; overall, the ship came up but it might have been at different levels in different destinations. In Belize, we didn’t have a great summer. Barbados was at 50 per cent of resort arrivals whereas Jamaica was at 100. But cruise has been slow to return [in Jamaica]. As it relates to resilience, I can say for sure that having a diversified footprint really helped us,” he added.
Chukka offers more than 60 fun-filled activities in Jamaica, Belize, Turks & Caicos, the Dominican Republic and Barbados and news broke recently of a foray into Antigua and Barbuda. Its website boasts of 700 employees who help them welcome 600,000 guests each year. A lot of their clients are from resorts and cruise ships so it is important for them that the wider tourism sector does well.
For Melville, any effort that will “deepen the movement of talent, assets and capital within this region” is welcome.
“As an economic zone, we might be widely spread out but our economic impact of a region is tiny. So we need every advantage possible to succeed as a region. Being able to move…resources from one location to another without major barriers makes the region more competitive. We need every advantage we can to compete against more sophisticated regions,” he said.
Always working to stay ahead of the game, Chukka had to find a way, post-pandemic, to carve out a clear advantage in the crowded adventure tours space.
“We reassured our customers that we survived COVID. We had the team members available, we had the product available, we had the capacity available, and we were ready for them as they arrived. That would be the underlying sales pitch for the return of Chukka to the industry,” explained Melville.
“We changed many things throughout the period of downtime. We did a lot of innovation, we did a lot of product improvement. We rethought a lot of the way we did things so that we came out of the pandemic more efficient, more relevant and — I would dare say a bigger, better business. I’m not saying we didn’t get hurt, everybody got damaged by it. We were, like everybody else. But the biggest thing that the customers wanted to hear is that you were alive, that [you had] the capacity and the quality and the ability to give their guests great service in a safe way.”
He stressed the importance, going forward, of having efficient airlift within the space, comments that are in line with increasing calls for a strong regional airline that would provide logistical support for multi-destination tourism.
“There’s a massive airlift transportation crisis happening throughout the Caribbean. That connectivity that existed in 2019 is not there today. I can tell you, I am hopping around a lot and it’s difficult to find flights on the days that you want them that are efficient for when you need them,” he said. “There is a shortage of connectivity between the islands.”
He is also concerned about the labour shortage that has had the global tourism sector in its grip for months. The nature of Chukka’s business makes it very labour intensive, Melville explained and in 2023 their focus will be on training and retention. To attract talent, they also rely heavily on their image as a Caribbean company.
“Once you become an expert… in a section of the company [in Jamaica], and we have that resource… in Belize or… Barbados you get the opportunity to move from one country to another to another. Whether you stay with Chukka forever or you don’t, we believe that we have been a part of your development to make you a bigger, better person,” he said.
“We do use the regional thing as… one of the reasons why working with us will be a good experience for you,” he added.