Robert Tonge, Tourism Minister
Robert Tonge, Tourism Minister

A drop in visitor arrivals to Dominica after last year's Tropical Storm Erika has resonated island-wide, but Tourism Minister Robert Tonge thinks new industry initiatives can turn things around.

Tonge attributed the decline to the closure of the main airport, reduced flights by the principal air-carrier LIAT for an extended period, plus international awareness of the devastation caused by the storm.

The Tourism Ministry's Statistics Report for 2015 reported a hotel occupancy rate of 50.6% compared with 51.8% in 2014. It also reported 74,474 stay-over visitors in 2015 compared with 81,511 in 2014; and there were 186 cruise calls--- 13 fewer than 2014.

Minister Tonge said strong efforts are being made to increase air access by getting other airlines on the Dominica route.

Also, LIAT is committed to restoring its Dominica flight schedule to about 90 percent of what it was before TS Erika, Tonge said.

He also asserted that efforts are in train to do targeted marketing for Dominica and boost online bookings using 'analytics', which pinpoints clients in niche markets.

This makes Dominica's tourism marketing more precise. "What 'analytics' allows you to do is . . . target those clients when they begin to shop for a destination," he explained.

The focus is on tourists who place high value on nature-oriented experiences Dominica has to offer, like snorkeling, hiking and diving. "You pay a little more, but it improves the accuracy . . . getting the right persons," Tonge said.

Drawing more visitors who enjoy what the island has to offer will increase the chances that they have good experiences, which will enhance Dominica's reputation as a prime destination.

According to Tonge, mechanisms are already in place on tourism websites to collect information for focused marketing to persons with a keen interest in what Dominica offers.

He added that plans are underway to establish a professional online booking system for local hotels.

This will use portals for individual hotel portals, so online customers can access booking information directly then book rooms and pay immediately.

Meanwhile, Dominica will work to make the island more attractive and comfortable for visitors from the French West Indies.

One plan is to implement systems for 'hassle-free' entry by visitors arriving on ferries, so they can walk off the vessels and enter the island like cruise ship passengers.

Tonge acknowledged that the existing process is too long and it reduces the time the visitors who come on excursions spend here.

These measures will be complemented by an expanded marketing drive in the French islands, he said.

Tonge mentioned plans to beef up training for the industry's service providers-- initially via the CVQ programme. He acknowledged that training is essential from point-of-entry and all other service areas.

Tonge also disclosed that his Ministry and the Roseau Town Council are collaborating to ensure frequent cleaning of the capital.

This is supported by the newly-launched "I am Dominica, I do not litter" campaign, and there are plans to assign more magistrates to deal with littering, environmental offences and civil matters.

On the issue of vagrants, Tonge said his ministry advocates a 'day care' programme for vagrants to be taken to the Psychiatric Unit to get cleaned up and spend the day engaged in wholesome activities.

He asserted that his ministry will continue to advocate for the implementation of this programme, though he acknowledged that the logistics of its would be a challenge.

Other measures include increasing the police presence in Roseau city and promoting 'community tourism' as is done in Portsmouth where a group provides services to visitors arriving on yachts.

Tonge said Government is facilitating this by working to complete a jetty where yacht owners can tie their dinghies.

Also, Government provided the group with a boat to help provide security for visitors' vessels at night.

Additional moorings have also been provided so more yachts can dock there.

Tonge said his Ministry is also looking at providing financial assistance in the tourism sector with the input of the Dominica Hotel and Tourism Association (DHTA).

The DHTA has been mandated to find out members' needs and report to the Ministry what financial help they are seeking to expand and improve their properties.

Tonge underscored the need for stakeholders to play their parts to invest in training staff and marketing their businesses effectively.

He said it is particularly important for them to ensure that what they advertise on their websites is actually available to visitors.