Sharing Economy Opportunities for Caribbean Tourism
The concept of the shared economy has opened up many opportunities for small business owners and individuals in the Caribbean, particularly in the service industries of tourism, such as lodging, transport, tours, and dining. Previously an industry may have been controlled by just a few families in the Caribbean, now many have the opportunity to participate; as long as they are willing to take advantage of new technologies and processes.
At the core of the shared economy is a ¨democratized¨ idea of selling or purchasing; the marketplace is more open and the products aren’t necessarily physical products. A prime example is Uber, which became the largest transportation marketplace without owning any cars. By simply connecting people with cars with people who wanted a ride, they “democratized” the idea of taxis and transportation.
While the Caribbean is the site of some of the world’s best hotels, the shared economy is significantly disrupting the way in which tourists select their accommodations. Thanks to companies such as Airbnb, Homeaway, and VRBO, which allow anyone to share their property, any condo, home, or even bedroom can be converted into a “hotel room” for visitors.
These sites empower individuals to maximize housing stock and earn money on a flexible schedule, all the while providing visitors, with what some say, is a more authentic local experience than hotels.
Transport was always a large expense, when I lived in the Caribbean. Cars were expensive due to the cost of repairs and taxis due to operational costs and market inefficiencies. The sharing economy has transformed all of this through Uber and the availability of applications such as EasyTaxi, which efficiently connects people to taxis.
There are also additional opportunities in the Caribbean for applying the shared economy to rental cars; locals may rent their cars when they are not using them, and visitors may participate in group rental programs like ZipCar. Sharing can also be applied to air travel, which would in turn disrupt the few airlines that control inter-island travel. The Caribbean is already participating in shared jet transport; the majority of private jets arriving into SXM or PUJ are flown by Netjets.
The shared economy has also been applied to boat rentals, making it easier for people to monetize their dormant boats. Marketplaces such as Boatbound and even Airbnb connect owners, captains, and renters.
Opportunity in the area of restaurants and food delivery is also enabled by the shared economy. I have always found the discovery of good restaurants to be challenging and many tourists typically default to hotel restaurants, but the sharing economy changes this. First, is in online recommends via review sites like Tripadvisor and through social sharing like Instagram. Second, is by creating more opportunity for pop-up restaurants or by legitimizing the food trucks that have always been a part of Caribbean cuisine.
Local chefs and great cooks of the islands no longer need a fancy restaurant and can promote their meals via sites like Instagram, Facebook Events, or Meal Sharing. This creates an opportunity for aspiring restaurant owners to share their concepts before incurring the significant costs of an actual restaurant.
The shared economy allows individuals and small businesses to reach customers at a much lower cost of startup then has traditionally been the case. Seek the best market for you, in this new Caribbean economy.