Above: Martinique Tourism Commissioner Karine Roy-Camille at CHTA Travel Marketplace in the Bahamas (CJ Photo)
By Alexander Britell
PARADISE ISLAND — Like fellow French department Guadeloupe, Martinique has maintained a relatively low profile for travelers in markets like the US — chiefly due to a lack of direct flights. But a new nonstop American Airlines flight from Miami will likely change things for a sector that derives the vast majority of its tourists from mainland France. Over the last few years, Martinique, under the stewardship of Tourism Commissioner Karine Roy-Camille, has been making an effort to grow its tourism sector, particularly in the United States — and increase its presence within the regional Caribbean industry. To learn more about the state of tourism in Martinique, Caribbean Journal talked to Roy-Camille at the CHTA Caribbean Travel Marketplace conference about the impact of the new flights, attracting US tourists and engaging with Martinique’s Caribbean neighbours.
Talk about the impact of the new American Airlines flight.
We have to diversify the origin of our clients. That’s why we are very much involved now in the US territory, and also in Latin America, and, in particular, Brazil. With the new flight we just got from American Airlines, which is great for us, it will open all the doors for us. Because we know that visitors prefer nonstop flights, and the new air service will provide the US market with many connecting flights. We are working on making this Miami flight profitable so that Martinique could soon benefit from a second weekly flight out of Miami with AA. So it’s a very good start for us. It’s a first step.
What kind of potential to you see for Martinique in the US market?
It’s wide open. But really, in comparing Martinique to the other islands, we know that we are very unique and different. But don’t forget that Martinique is French and European. We have a very high standard of living, of infrastructure, and our rates are a little higher than other islands. So that’s been that way, looking for visitors who want special attention, who are looking for special services. For example, for people who like to experience freedom [on their trips], they can rent a car, cross the island from north to south and east to west, maybe lose their way, meet people, meet the population. That’s the experience we are pleased to offer them.
What are your major priorities for developing tourism in Martinique?
It’s only 2.5 years since I’m in command of the tourism industry. The difference with the previous administration is that the new administration led by Mr Serge Letchimy, designated tourism as a top priority for Martinique’s development. Now it is a top priority. Because we do understand and we do believe that if tourism works well, all the other aspects of the industry will work — construction, building, agriculture. Because we need all of those to make tourism great. So our priority is to offer a product, and tourism is the best way. We don’t have any industry in Martinique. We have no natural resources — we have no oil. But what I would like people to know is that Martinique is not only sea, sand and sun. It’s green also, it’s culture, it’s gastronomy, it’s rhum. So we have so many aspects to discover in Martinique. It’s not only the beaches — Martinique, as a small territory, has everything to offer. The best thing we have is our population, which is open to tourists. They do have to make some effort in English, so we will continue to work on that. I will not say everything is perfect, but we do improve our product, and It will work.
Where is hotel occupancy now in Martinique, and how much new hotel stock is on the way?
Right now, in peak season, the average is about 70 percent, which is too low for me. Because we should have an average of 100 percent at the top of the year. Because our low season is very long, from April until November, which is about 55 percent in the low season. So we are looking to open new hotels, but first to fill the ones we have right now, by commercial operation and partnership with tour operators.
Martinique is not only sea, sand and sun. It’s green also, it’s culture, it’s gastronomy, it’s rhum.”
Do you see the city of Fort-de-France itself having potential for urban tourism?
It’s a new concept, urban tourism. So yes, Fort de France is urban, but at the same time, we kept the old city, the big gardens, La Savane — we also have Fort Saint Louis. So it is very important that all parts of the city look at the future. This is very important. We don’t want a big city like New York – we’re not New York. Look at Paris — it has all the old historic buildings that make the story of Paris. So urban tourists, yes, but without forgetting the past.
Martinique has been more visible at regional conferences like CHTA of late. Does engaging with the wider Caribbean region help Martinique?
Definitely. That’s why I’m so much involved in CTO [The Caribbean Tourism Organization], as vice president for the French territories (St Martin, Martinique, Guadeloupe and Haiti). It’s very important, because we do have to develop our regional tourism first. And we do have to work together to find solutions for airlift also. It’s so easy to go from Martinique to Paris, or from Barbados to London, but it’s so difficult to travel in between the islands. So we do have some competition [with the other islands] but we do have some things in common, and we have to work together for that.
What would be your biggest dream for Martinique’s tourism sector in five years?
In five years, to have all my hotels refurbished, all the old ones. And brands — we need brands, because people, when they don’t know the destination, at least they recognize the name. So we need brands, we need more cruise ships, and more cruise ships during the low season. And we need activity all year round – this is my dream in five years.