The Caribbean is an extraordinary picturesque ‘postcard’ destination. In this interview, David Weatherson, CEO of SunTours Caribbean introduces us to his unique destination management company, highlighting its success in a competitive market.
Tropical climates, crystal waters, white sand beaches, scenic landscapes and breath taking views are just a few of the many reasons why the Caribbean is renowned for being an idyllic destination. From Antigua, Barbados, St Lucia through to Trinidad & Tobago, the 700 islands of the Caribbean offer rich cultural experiences, unique leisure opportunities and long lasting memories.
The Caribbean has often been described as the most tourism dependent region in the world. Now a popular choice amongst honeymooners, those looking for a destination wedding location, and increasingly, a growing niche for business travel, the ability to adapt to this expanding market and provide comprehensive tourism-related services to both individuals and corporates is a fascinating challenge.
One such destination management company operating in this space is SunTours Caribbean. Under the leadership of David Weatherson, CEO, this innovative travel and tourism sector organisation has gained a widespread reputation for excellence and won many prestigious industry awards. Here, David gives us a unique insight into his successful organisation. He explains how his experience and knowledge has undoubtedly played a major factor in its success, gives his opinion on challenges faced by the industry together with methods of overcoming them, and discusses SunTours Caribbean’s expansion plans.
With rising competition in the field of destination management, what factors would you say have been instrumental in SunTours Caribbean achieving success?
First and foremost it’s our entire team, their passion, dedication and desire to make a difference, but importantly it’s also a combination of well-established local relationships and experience. Being based on the islands we operate from – Antigua, Barbados and St Lucia – means that we’ve been able to build relationships with partners, suppliers and vendors. Whether that’s hotels, restaurants, car hire companies or sporting facilities, living here gives us first-hand knowledge. As all our staff have family, friends and neighbours who use local services, this enables them to provide something extra – our customers are at the heart of all we do, and excellent customer service is paramount to our offering.
So, industry experience, local knowledge and reputable partnerships obviously form the core of your company’s success, but on a personal level, could you tell us something about your career, your motivations and pivotal moments?
My father’s advice that ‘nothing worth having in life comes easy,’ always serves as a timely reminder to me when inevitable challenges arise. Whilst the ultimate goal of happy, contented staff and satisfied repeat customers certainly does make up for all the blood, sweat, tears and sacrifices, I think it’s also important to laugh along the way and to love what you do.
Over the years I’ve been fortunate enough to work for many global corporates and leading brands in the travel industry and met some incredibly encouraging individuals. They’ve all shaped me into who I am today and the position in which I find myself, but if I had to single out one in particular, it would be British Airways. I look back at my time spent with BA with fondness and gratitude. I received overwhelming support from my team, peers and senior management and feel honoured to have been able to contribute to such a prestigious organisation.
SunTours Caribbean is part of an umbrella company, SunGroup Inc. What are the advantages to this and how has it helped you to maintain a role as a leading regional destination management company?
Again, I think this goes back to established relationships and a family atmosphere. Founded in 1976 by ‘Bernie’ Weatherhead and to this day still a family-run business, SunGroup Inc is an amalgamation of companies operating out of 51 offices in 11 countries and employing over 700 staff. It’s a thriving, yet happy family of industry partners – hotels, vehicle rental, villa rental, insurance services and more – working to a common ethos of ‘there is no such thing as ‘can’t do,’ and going above and beyond to deliver on our commitments.
Advantages to us include economies of scale. Working as a Group we’re able to offer customers unrivalled products and services whilst keeping costs to a minimum, The Group is dedicated to ongoing training, keeping ahead of technological changes and prides itself on encouraging employees to share opportunities, criticisms, support and assistance.
You mentioned technological changes there, and of course the travel industry has had to adapt to social media and the whole Internet age. What do you consider to have been the largest challenges facing the industry?
One of the most significant will always be our ability to reach out and interact with our customers and potential clients, and as a Group it’s vital to invest in new technologies, software, hardware and communication alongside staff education and training.
However, one of the biggest issues we face in the region is one which is totally out of our control – inaccurate and sometimes scaremongering weather reports. The Caribbean comprises over 700 islands, reefs and cays and spans a total area of more than a million sq.ft. Whilst the area does suffer hurricanes, poorly presented news such as ‘hurricane season destroying the Caribbean’ can be unnecessarily damaging to the summer trade, sewing the seed of doubt that travel is unwise. In fact, with localised hurricane effects, the opposite is true – Caribbean summers are green, lush and quiet! These things are out of our control, and so we must concentrate on the things we do best – ensuring our customers of our undivided attention to their needs at all times.
Going forward, what plans does SunTours Caribbean have for future expansion?
We’re extremely excited to announce our revolutionary new project which will lead to future growth. Book Island Tours is the first of its kind in the Caribbean – a simple online booking system for travellers wishing to experience the best tours, activities, dining and nightlife on offer. Select an area of interest, check availability and book in advance via mobile, tablet, laptop or desktop PC, or for a more personalised touch our concierge team are on hand to discuss individual requirements and then provide tailor made services based on hand-picked local experience and knowledge.
Generally speaking, future possibilities are endless. I’d love to see Book Island Tours operating on a global stage, expanding into new islands and increasing our MICE (meetings, incentive travel, corporate and events) offering to the corporate world. In the meantime, we aim to stay ahead of our competitors through the provision of sustainable, responsible tourism. We all have a responsibility to preserve these wonderful islands, keep beaches clean and pristine, and our waters and coral reefs vibrant and plastic free. SunTours Caribbean, Book Island Tours and SunGroup Inc remain passionate and committed to enhancing guest experiences and will continue to maintain our title of leading destination management company in the Caribbean.
Further information on SunTours Caribbean and Book Island Tours together with a comprehensive array of island tours, wedding planning, corporate MICE services, airport meet and greet, and 24 hour concierge assistance can be found at the following websites www.suntours.caribbean.com
You can also keep up with the best tours and places in the Caribbean by following Book Island Tours on Instagram @bookislandtours