This archipelago of islands in the Eastern Caribbean Sea is an increasingly popular holiday destination for discerning tourists and an established stop for the cruise ship market. Kreol magazine’s editor, Georgina Dhillon, caught up with tourism boss, Willy Rosier, to learn about the future for tourism to this French overseas territory.
Willy Rosier has been General Manager of the Tourism Board of Guadeloupe for the past five years, during which time he and his team have been working hard to attract more visitors to this sun-kissed cluster of Caribbean islands. I started off by asking him how much progress he feels he’s made during his time at the helm. A lot, is the short answer, and having overseen a doubling in revenue, with around half a million visitors coming to Guadeloupe every year, 300,000 of them in cruise ships, Willy may be tempted to give himself a pat on the back, but he knows there is still work to be done to develop the tourism infrastructure on the islands – islands which he unashamedly describes as, “Paradise”. “Revenue has doubled since 2010, and although most of our visitors are still from France, we’ve seen a big increase in the US and Canadian market in recent years. We’re also seeing a lot more visitors from Europe, including Switzerland, Belgium, The Netherlands, and more recently, England as well.”
Given that there is no direct flight to the islands from London, with tourists having to fly out via Paris, the fact that so many English people are coming is even more impressive. But, despite the big jump in visitors, I’m left in no doubt that the focus is not simply about the numbers.
Fragility managed by revenue per tourist
Quality, not quantity is definitely the way forward according to the tourism boss. “Guadeloupe,” he says “is quite fragile in respect of just how much tourism it can support and if visitors were to reach 700,000 per year, revenue might be great, but the cost to the islands themselves could be too much to sustain.” He continues, “For us it’s more about increasing the revenue per tourist. Guadeloupe is a choice destination. It’s about staying in a charming hotel, renting a nice villa or house. It’s important to increase this market, but not to have one or two million tourists – that’s definitely not the goal!”
At present, visitors to the islands spend between 1,000- 2,000 Euros during their stay. The challenge is to go on diversifying within the North American market, but also target South America, especially Brazil, as well as the UK, and Germany. One of the main goals is to establish direct routes to the island. The focus is also on targeting emerging markets such as China and India. Groups coming from China have been on the increase, while tourism from India is still more about the potential yet to be realised than any meaningful numbers to date. And yet, the ties between India and Guadeloupe, and the Caribbean as a whole, go back many years. Second only to Trinidad, where over half the population is of Indian origin (in Guadeloupe it’s around 20%), India is important to Guadeloupe, says Willy, whose own grandfather came from the sub-continent.
Of course, the Caribbean is already a busy market so what is it about Guadeloupe, I wanted to know, that makes it a special place to visit, whether it’s for Indian visitors, tourists from the countries already mentioned, or holidaymakers from other parts of the world who are looking for something different?
“Guadeloupe is like a Caribbean in miniature,” says the tourism boss, “and the five islands are so different from each other, like “five different countries”, that you really need several visits to discover all there is to see.” The two largest islands are Grand Terre, characterised by long, white sandy beaches and sugarcane fields; and Basse Terre, with the Parc National de la Guadeloupe and the Jacques Cousteau Underwater Reserve, famous for it natural observatory of marine life and the “very special” scuba-diving opportunities it offers. Smaller islands include Marie-Galante, La Desirade, and Les Saintes.
Rivers, waterfalls, volcanos (the biggest being La Grande Soufriere), semi-precious stones, artisan rums, music and dance, carnival, and even international surfing championships – Guadeloupe has all of this and plenty more. So is there any special message Willy Rosier has for Kreol readers about Guadeloupe?
“Each island is so different so you need to go back several times to discover them. People who live in Le Saintes are mainly colonial people (ex-pats) with a different culture from the people who live in Basse-Terre, for example. You also have typical art from Le Saintes, and there are so many different stories (from all the different islands) as well as nature, traditions, culture, and food.”
Talking about food and local Creole dishes, with French, African, East Indian, and South Asian influences, what is the tourism boss’s own personal favourite dish? “Dumplings, with salted pig’s tail and red beans,” he says without hesitation!