Hit by hurricanes in 2017, the Caribbean has recovered and is brighter and more vibrant than ever. Caribbean Week New York in early June was an opportunity to promote the region and its unique identity through cuisine, culture and the arts. Hosted by Caribbean Tourism Organization, sustainable development and the use and promotion of locally produced products in the tourism and hospitality industries were high on the agenda at the various business and consumer-orientated events. Big Apple residents enjoyed a feast for the senses, with chefs from around the region showcasing their cooking, putting their spin on traditional methods and ingredients. Attended by tourism officials, industry executives, media, Caribbean Diaspora, travel agents, consumers and students, Caribbean Week New York is proof the region is alive and kicking, with the promotion of its cuisine and culture both a priority for those living there, and an attraction for visitors and investors alike.
The colours, the smells and the sights of the Caribbean are a sensory overload.
Staged from June 2 until 8, and hosted by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the annual Caribbean Week New York brought a slice of this magical region to the vibrant metropolis.
The week-long event saw artists, performers, celebrity chefs, the Diaspora community, investors and other strategic partners join government officials, tourism stakeholders and the media gather to raise awareness for the Caribbean’s diverse tourism and culinary industries, and opportunities available in the region and to further enhance the Caribbean brand.
In 2017, the Caribbean took a one-two punch from hurricanes Irma and Maria, which ravaged several islands, including Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, Barbuda, St Barts, Anguilla and St Martin.
While the damage was extensive, many islands in the region were untouched by either storm, and many that took a glancing blow or sustained minimal damage are open to tourism.
All of the Islands that sustained heavy damage are well into recovery and rebuilding operations and several have reopened to tourism faster than expected.
Despite the hurricanes, overall visitor numbers for the Caribbean were strong in 2017 according to www.travelweekly.com.
Caribbean Week New York has presented an opportunity for the region’s ambassadors to promote its rejuvenation and revival, with all it has to offer.
Caribbean Travel Organization – United States Director Sylma Brown says CTO is committed to continuing to showcase the great cultural talent of the region, through food, music, fashion and many other expressions.
The New York-based event is an important and perfect platform for destinations to seamlessly highlight the authentic and complex nature of the region, she adds.
Throughout Caribbean Week, there were various activities and festivities for attendees, including the prestigious Caribbean Tourism Industry Awards Dinner and Fashion Show at Wyndham New Yorker Hotel on June 7.
Barbadian born and Vincentian by descent, Chef Jason Howard’s “culinary masterpieces” were a highlight at the awards dinner which showcased the region’s cultural identity.
Chef Jason is renowned for his modern take on Caribbean food – he infuses the flavours of his native cuisine with French cooking techniques to create stunning, balanced, and thought-provoking dishes, known for their vibrant colours and diverse textures.
He aspires to be one of the world’s top Caribbean chefs, and has brought the region’s cuisine its first ever Michelin star.
While he has a clear passion for Caribbean cuisine, he is also frustrated not enough Caribbean chefs make the most of the exciting flavours and cultural influences Caribbean cuisine has to offer.
Appearing at Caribbean Week was an opportunity for the chef to promote the use of these flavours and cultural influences in Caribbean cuisine, as well as networking with like-minded individuals, who share a passion for Caribbean food and its advancement, Chef Jason says.
“Coming to New York to be a part of a celebration of Caribbean food is testimony to my belief that our cultural influences have taken root in international cuisine and fine dining,” he says.
“This should be inspiration for upcoming Caribbean chefs to express themselves using the ingredients, techniques and flavours which first sparked their passion for food.”
Caribbean cuisine is unique in that it is made of so many different cuisines – such as English, Spanish and French, inspiring many to transform it beyond its current form, the Chef adds.
The Caribbean is growing to become a popular food destination for tourists with its growing use of locally sourced indigenous fruits, vegetables and other foods throughout the tourism and hospitality industries, he says.
While the use of local produce is becoming more widespread, Chef Jason says there are still many improvements to be made.
“For example, I would like to see the ingredients stand-out alone more, which would show how our ingredients are key, to this master cuisine.
“Looking within and around us is the only way forward for Caribbean food,” he says.
Only the best kind of societal changes would be achieved by using locally produced cuisine, Chef Jason says.
“This is the best way to showcase Caribbean food and culture – there is no need at all to import anything, we have everything we need on our islands.
“We see the world using products so some of our people think they should also use those products.
“This mindset is slowly changing, however, and soon there will be no need to import.”
This year, the event had a special feel and focus, with Big Apple residents able to experience the re-energising and rejuvenating power of Caribbean wellness.
Throughout the week, the wellness theme was incorporated into many activities, including a trade show and educational forum for travel agents on how to sell the Caribbean as a wellness destination.
Eating great locally produced organic food plays a major part of wellness – defined as the state of being in good health, especially as an actively pursued goal.
The role of Caribbean Week host CTO is to provide services and information needed for the development of sustainable tourism in the Caribbean, which will benefit the region’s people economically and socially.
It facilitates the sustainability of tourism in the region through liaising with its partners, members and key stakeholders, while providing technical advice on important issues such as execution of projects on issues such as climate change, disaster risk management, and energy efficiency.
Chef Jason’s promotion of the use of local products to showcase wonderful cuisine for visitors to the region matches CTO’s ambitions of achieving sustainable tourism throughout the Caribbean.
CTO provides a wide range of advisory services to international institutions, national governments and public and private sector organizations.
Consumer events were staged during Caribbean Week, where speakers presented on “Revival for the Caribbean” in New York’s Financial District, to mark the region’s recovery from the 2017 hurricane season.
Member destinations of CTO had the opportunity to promote their individual products and services, participate in meetings, seminars and other business development activities, while travel agents and media who influence key travel demographics were provided with the latest information and statistics.
Suppliers to the Caribbean Tourism Industry were able to gain exclusive access to journalists and other information in the industry workshops, and forum.
For CTO Allied members, the Marketing Conference provided the latest trends in this area, with guest speaker Nadine Stewart-Phillips, secretary of Tourism, Culture and Transportation for the Tobago House of Assembly, taking the stage.
There were also private closed door sessions, with ministers, commissioners and directors of tourism from the 28 member countries of the CTO meeting to discuss the industry’s latest developments and chart the way forward, with the CTO Foundation exploring ideas for financing its work.
This work includes providing opportunities for high-achieving Caribbean nationals to pursue studies in the areas of tourism, hospitality and language training, after being identified by the CTO Scholarship Foundation.
Its aim is to develop potential leaders, who have an interest in making a positive contribution to Caribbean tourism.
The action-packed Caribbean Week officially ended with the Rum and Rhythm Benefit, at Capitale in Bowery – a fundraiser for CTO and for the Foundation.
Approximately 700 people attended the event, including important tourism industry officials and vendors, top Caribbean personalities and celebrities as well as significant representation of the Caribbean Diaspora community who are an integral part of investment opportunities.
The guests experienced the eclectic cuisines, pulsating rhythms, camaraderie and quintessential Caribbean experiences.
Meanwhile, samples of award winning rums of the region were available for tasting, along with authentic cuisine prepared by Caribbean celebrity chefs and cocktails concocted by popular mixologists.
The Benefit provided an ideal end to a week of creating positive relationships, a fundamental goal of Caribbean Week.
Throughout much of Caribbean Week and the Rum and Rhythm Benefit, the islands of Antigua and Barbuda had the strongest and most vibrant presence.
At the Benefit, the Antigua and Barbuda lounge was packed all evening with guests at the sold-out event.
This area featured food by celebrated Antiguan Chef Christopher Terry – the Sous Chef at Sandals Resorts International in Miami/Fort Lauderdale area and a Caribbean Week regular, as well as cocktails by Antiguan mixologist Ralph John.
In fact, Caribbean Week 2018 has been deemed a resounding success for twin-island paradise Antigua and Barbuda, which offers visitors two uniquely distinct experiences.
It asserted its position as the destination of choice in the Caribbean, and also as the thought-leaders in Caribbean Tourism.
Minister of Tourism and Investment, Hon Charles “Max” Fernandez and a team of government officials were present at Caribbean Week, trying to create impact across the various events.
After the success of government and thought leadership programs as well as the media marketplace that saw over 130 media in attendance, the week ended on a high with an exclusive top-tier media luncheon.
At the event Minister Fernandez shared positive tourism news for Antigua and Barbuda.
The destination achieved the highest number of total tourist arrivals in 2017 with over million visitors and additional exciting gains include exponentially increasing airlift for winter 2018.
Airlines such as American Airline and Delta have increased flight capacity, and introduced new services departing the US in response to the increasing demand from tourists.
Minister Fernandez also shared the exciting growth for the island with major property developments to be introduced over the next two years, as well as two for 2018 – the already popular luxury glamping Wild Lotus, and Hodges Bay Resort and Spa set to open in October.
Combined with the news of the major strides Barbuda is making following the devastation Hurricane Irma caused in November 2017, and that Barbuda Belle is reopening in this November, media left impressed and excited to disseminate the positive news.
For the people of the region, it means opportunity to promote its unique identity in the tourism industry, sustainably through its food and culture.
Caribbean Week New York has allowed for the region to reassert its position in many markets, particularly the North American market as the destination of choice, from tourism to investment.
From every event and activity during the week, the infectious feeling of excitement and growth could be felt.
This paired with the genuine desire to maintain what is unique about the region through its food, culture and traditions signal positive times ahead for this slice of paradise.