Piper was speaking at a briefing during the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry conference in St Kitts this week.
Dominica received approximately 75,000 stayover visitors in 2011, according to Piper, along with between 250,000 and 300,000 cruise passengers.
The country’s all-time highs were were about 84,000 and 530,000, respectively.
The latter has fallen in large part due to the loss of the Carnival Victory cruise ship, which accounted for 160,000 annual cruise arrivals, which has cost the country around $6.3 million USD.
What makes Dominica’s market unique is that it has a significantly high — 50 percent — percentage of Caribbean visitors, mostly from neighbouring Martinique and Guadeloupe.
“We have a renewed focus on the Caribbean [market], particularly on our French neighbours, because we have a ferry service which comes in daily,” he said. “So we’re not limited to a certain extent by access — and there are a million people in Guadeloupe and Martinique. While many travel by air, a large number don’t mind traveling by sea.”
Piper said that other markets, like France and Germany, were showing growth, with the latter showing strong interest in Dominica’s green, natural product.
But it’s the stayover visitors that have been vacillating around 75,000 and 80,000 each year, and the problem, Piper said, is access.
“We really identified the issue of access as an impediment to Dominica’s growth,” he said Wednesday at the State of the Industry conference in St Kitts.
On the development side, Dominica has several new projects, including the Rosalie Bay Resort and Secret Bay, along with a few more in development, highlighted by the Cabrits Hotel Resort and Spa, which is a joint project between Dominica and Morocco.
Rosalie Bay is the first in Dominica to be Green Globe certified, and Secret Bay was recently placed on the Travel & Leisure “It List.”
But finding a way to bring visitors to the country to these hotels and resorts will be a major part of the country’s tourism strategy going forward, he said.
Last year, Dominica employed Trinidad-based aviation consultant Ian Bertrand to look into creating an access strategy, which has since been finalized.
The strategy notes that Dominica has five to seven international hubs surrounding it within 100 to 150 miles. It calls for the country to increase the frequency and capacity of flights, with an eye toward increasing partnerships with third-tier small carriers like Fly Montserrat, BVI Airways, Air Sunshine and SVG.
Dominica has already had what Piper described as “serious discussions” with Nature Air, more discussions with SVG and Fly Montserrat and “detailed” discussions with BVI Air
“We understand we must work with them in terms of shared risk from a marketing perspective,” Piper said. “So we’re going about the business analysis and looking at how we can focus on one or two or three of those seven hubs to make it financially viable, and to partner with the right third tier airlines.”
The ultimate goal is to receive 82,000 stayover visitors by 2015.
“We continue to dialogue with the aviation business to determine how we can take advantage, what inhibitors we have on the ground, to try and get ourselves ready to take advantage of any opportunity,” he said.
The hope, he said, is to increase the “capacity, the frequency and to make the experience to travel to Dominica shorter — and a better experience.”