The World's Best Islands

A review of The World's Best Islands rankings on the World Wide Web

Islands attract because of the unique, often intangible, experience of being on an island and there are plenty of islands to visit worldwide. Selecting the best one has been the task of dozens of articles appearing in many types of media. Each one has a different set of criteria to make their selection. Some include reader responses, survey results, visits by the author, rankings by travel agents and so on.

So, where the 'best' island is is very much a matter of opinion. But many travellers, perhaps most travellers, will select a destination based on the position that an island might achieve in one, or more, of these listings. Many travel marketers, including the island's own representation, also grab a headline here and there to showcase their desirability as a place to visit. What this presents, in terms of a competitive landscape, is a complex jumble of facts and ultimately opinions as to which island should top the list.

To be certain, this is a competitive landscape with many islands vying to reach the travelling public's attention. So, whereas, if you're an island marketer looking over your own island destination with a certain obvious bias for it, this is not what the buying public sees, because, in all likelihood, they've never been there. And, the prospective visitor clearly does not have the same motivation as a travel marketer. What is obvious is that there is plenty of islands to choose from, so making it to the top of someone's list is a serious challenge and there is no clear path to getting there.

A review of websites that list islands by criteria such as 'best' or 'most popular' or 'most beautiful' reveals the competitive marketplace. And, if the credibility of these websites to viewers is high enough to be taken as a recommendation, the Caribbean has a lot of work to do.

World's Best Islands: Summary of 25 pages
Page Top Caribbean Island Rank Source
Big 7 Travel Jamaica 2
Condé Nast 2020 Saint Barth's 14
Condé Nast 2021 Saint Barth's 18
Condé Nast 2022 Saint Barth's 13
Escape Jamaica 2
Global Viewpoint Saint Lucia 2
Holidify N/A
Luxury Travel Expert N/A
NG Traveler (Nov/Dec 2008) Dominica 13
Nomadic Matt Curaçao 9
Planet D Saint Lucia 2
Planetware Saint Lucia 12
RoadAffair Jamaica 11
Thrillist Dominica 15
Timeout Saint Barts 1
Touristically Saint Barts 9
Touropia Saint Lucia 11
TourScanner Saint Lucia 8
Travel + Leisure Saint Vincent and the Grenadines 3
Travel + Leisure Asia Dominica 8
The Travel Corporation The Bahamas 3
Travellers Worldwide Aruba 9
VacationIdea Bahamas 2
Via Travelers Aruba 1
World of Wanderlust Aruba 18

Summary of The World's Best Islands rankings

This look at 25 web pages shows World islands that the author of the page has given a ranking. In only two pages did a Caribbean island place first: Aruba and Saint Barth's. Two of these pages did not even rank a Caribbean island at all.

Other islands on these pages with top ten rankings are: Anguilla, The Bahamas, Bermuda, Curaçao, Dominica, Exuma Cays, Grand Cayman Island, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and The Turks and Caicos Islands. Note that Saint Barth's along with Saint Lucia have each received five mentions in these rankings. Aruba, The Bahamas, Jamaica and Dominica also have multiple mentions.

There are no other Caribbean islands that land in the top ten rankings on any of these 25 pages. So any search for 'best island' and so on will likely not show any Caribbean destination at all. It may be tempting to pass off these rankings but this definitely forms at least a part of what the buying public sees, and digests. It may also be a sort of 'canary in the coalmine' indicator for Caribbean tourism. More than half of Caribbean island destinations never made the top ten in any of these rankings.

Caribbean destination marketers and tourism authorities must find ways to compete in order to better these scores. This will involve investing in local assets such as upgrading resort facilities and improving infrastructure including wifi and networking to be similar to first world standards. Importantly, this will also require investing in promotional campaigns to increase public awareness in the main feeder markets in North America and Europe and, increasingly, South America and far east markets in India and China.

Past performance is no guarantee of future success

While many of these things may be obvious, it is also obvious that Caribbean tourism is under threat in a number of other ways too, including over-tourism, climate change and deteriorating infrastructure among them. In this respect, most islands have similar challenges. But the Caribbean has another threat that is equally valid, that of taking their attractiveness for granted. Having been a past leader, nowadays marketing islands is becoming ever increasingly challenging, with more destinations and richer promotional budgets. Caribbean destinations risk falling further behind, as shown in this WTTC report, where it states:

"Between 2010 and 2019, although the sector’s average annual growth rate of 3% outpaced the regional economy growth of 1.3%, it lagged behind the global average Travel & Tourism growth of 4.2%" ... and ... "The Caribbean relies on international visitors more than any other region in the world. Therefore, the right measures to support the restoration of international tourism post COVID-19 are vital for the full recovery of the sector." (pg 4)

That is to say: Within the decade from 2010 to 2019, Caribbean tourism lost 12% of growth relative to the global average. That was the decade before COVID. Clearly, the region has a problem and its prominence as a regional tourism hub may have peaked. The Caribbean must step up its game and a re-design of tourism marketing and promotion is absolutely necessary.

A key factor in this marketing push has to be collective, aka collaborative or cooperative marketing. The nature of marketing increasingly must include promotional expenditures in media in feeder markets. This is expensive and is most likely beyond the budgets of most Caribbean destinations. But, no other method will have the same effect as presenting your product directly to the buying public. So, some form of collective marketing is necessary to share the burden of this expense.

Marketing within the Caribbean region is also important based on a 'local experience' theme. These markets are ripe for the picking with fairly easy and relatively inexpensive options for travel within the region. Mr Bartlett has it right when he speaks of removing barriers to local travel. Once this happens, local and 'from away' visitors are enabled to move around within Caricom countries more freely. Assisting potential visitors, including nearby ones, with incentives such as lowered taxes or special room rates, for example, in low or shoulder seasons will definitely deliver results. Improving local transportation links, both air and marine, should also be high on this list. Marketing directed at the Caribbean diaspora is another option.

Another key factor is educating local populations about the importance of a proper service mentality. In general, Caribbean restaurants, hotels and resorts are known for service quality. But, no visitor will be moved to open their wallet in a place where they don't feel welcome. Further, no visitor will return to a destination where they did not receive top quality service along with a fulfilling travel experience. Training of tour guides and taxi drivers is an ongoing program in many places. These service providers are more exposed to the foreign visitor but this training must also extend to employees in local businesses such as retail outlets. Regardless of where you are, this must always be a goal of destination marketing. To be sure, other destinations are also placing the service mentality at the top of their list of things that always need improvement. In other words, there is always a better way to deliver service and the challenge is to be at the front of the line in making the visitor feel something truly special.

The alternative, of course, is diminishing visitor numbers both in real as well as relative terms. And, given the above evidence, this is likely to be the outcome because most smaller Caribbean destinations do not make any promotional investment to speak of. Appearing at tourism fairs doesn't really deliver, as the above data suggests. The reality is every destination is already doing this. So, the need for increasing visitor spend from the existing visitor cohort is going to be the only way to generate more revenue. What does this mean, in terms of local delivery? It means more, and better, products and services that visitors want, such as digital services, entertainment and local arts and crafts.

In this increasingly competitive market place, Caribbean destinations, and peoples, are being compelled to not take their attractiveness for granted. And, clearly, options to promote travel in the region do exist. It is the combining of a set of factors that will both attract more visitors as well as encourage them to spend their money. But whether, and to what extent, this will happen is more and more being left in the hands of marketing authorities with fewer assets and tools to work with. Becoming, and staying, the World's 'best island' emphasises the need for every tourism employee, indeed every citizen, to step up to compete in a worldwide marketplace in which the Caribbean risks being left behind.