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Defining Caribbean Luxury Lifestyle – Part I

Gus Franklyn-Bute Editor-in-Chief

Caribbean Luxury rigidly defined

Savouring the taste of Erica’s Country Style pepper jelly as you dine on a blush evening, overlooking Elizabeth Harbour, Bequia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, or supping on a Banks Beer at sunset somewhere along West Coast, Barbados, may be an everyday occurrence for one, yet the height of luxury for another. And so goes the elusiveness of defining a luxurious lifestyle in today’s age of masstige or accessible luxury (consumerism).

ACU|BIEN proffers a definition that a luxury lifestyle is “an individual or group’s engagement with products, services and places that imbue a sense of indulgence, refined living, pleasure and comfort beyond the necessities and well-being of life.” So what define these two Caribbean experiences as luxurious may not be specific to the product or Caribbean location, but the perceived value the lifestyler places on the holistic experience of that moment.

Bequia17Luxury as a concept has been characteristic in western and eastern civilisations throughout the ages, where boundaries and delimiter have been determined by social classes, elite groupings and the ever changing nuances in the democratisation of consumption. Tautologically, Caribbean luxury lifestyle has been rigidly defined by European and North American strictures, where the region’s luxury asset classes are dominated by real estate – luxury homes and estates; tourism and hospitality – boutique and luxury hotels, private islands, yachts, fine dining; social and professional cliques, and the general acquisition of foreign consumables – cars, clothing, jewellery, fashion and habits.

Luxury brands step change and the Nou veau Riche

In 2011, global consumption of luxury goods and services in the mature markets of North America and Europe showed positive revenue upswing, in spite the ongoing economic challenges with which these regions are grappling. Brands in these markets have long dominated positions across luxury product categories – fashion, collectables, travel, property, food and drink, and the top 10 global brands by value, led by Louis Vuitton with an estimated worth of US$25,920m, is affirmation of their vice-like grip on consumer spending. See Expanding middle classes in the faster growing nations of China, India, Brazil and Russia, so called BRICs, have brought about a strategic step change in how established luxury brands position themselves within these markets, and the nouveau riche are also driving the emergence of new ‘national’ luxury brands from within their home countries.

Caribbean passive in game of ‘Platinum Monopoly’

The Caribbean is in essence a passive player in the game of ‘platinum monopoly.’ It is a playground for the wealthy and high net worth punters in search of offshore investment assets and exclusive sun drenched vacations. And so, each Caribbean national investment agency and tourism authority, in desperate need for foreign exchange, remain transfixed in a perpetual merengue dance as they struggle to keep step with directional and discerning investor and consumer demands, whose tempo and rhythm are increasingly staccato.

Characteristic of the Caribbean’s well documented structural development weaknesses in redefining, developing, and delivering a self-styled and coherent regional identity, has been its consequential market failures, evidence by the blaring absence of a single, truly global Caribbean brand, product or service. International brands of recording artists and sporting heroes are tagged to their individual home country, e.g. Rhianna, Barbados and Usain Bolt, Jamaica, and in the minds of the global audience any brand recognition or connotation to a wider Caribbean identity is tenuous and convoluted. In the luxury sector, in spite of stalwart efforts and tourism budgets spent on promoting the region’s comparative advantages as a destination for wealthier classes, there exit no meaningful Caribbean luxury brands to capture growing spending powers of the “Travelling Luxury Consumer” or TLC, a term coined by Angela Ahrendts, Burberry’s chief executive, in describing the company’s key customer.

Caribbean Missed Opportunities In Luxury Sector

These missed opportunities extend to Caribbean consumers within the region and the Diaspora. Caribbean nationals are avid consumer of luxury brands and services, with a ferocious appetite for news on what is trending in fashion, travel, events, music, technology, arts and entertainment, be it in the region or internationally. Diaspora residents are readily exposed to international luxury and metropolitan lifestyles, particularly those residing in countries with colonial links, such as the United Kingdom, France and The Netherlands, as well as the United States and Canada. Some estimates suggest that 10 million Caribbean diaspora nationals reside in these centres.

rihinna gucci2Caribbean consumers of luxury are highly skilled, college and university graduates in management and professional occupations. They form part of the wider diaspora who are pivotal in the economic contribution made to the region as hard-earned and much valued remittances are transmitted to families and communities in their respective countries. Further, as consumers of “nostalgic” goods and services, they are essential to the national trade account for significant cross-border revenue movements. In addition, as travellers to the Caribbean these diaspora nationals are a target for the competing national tourism products, services and events.

Caribbean Luxury fresh thinking

The Caribbean’s passive engagement and dependence on North American and European markets is unsustainable. Glance at any Caribbean country’s annual economic budget statement and year on year the reference to the ‘country being subject to severe exogenous shocks’ is a byword whose meaning has lost its value. Whereas respective governments have made concerted efforts to diversify their economies, it is evident that this status quo demands fresh thinking and new approaches. The step change in luxury marketing and product development driven by the global re-balancing orchestrated at the heart of the BRICs, and new opportunities created by the rapacious appetite of the new middle classes and nouveau riche in these regions pose new challenges to the traditional approach the Caribbean take on marketing its luxury product and services. The TLCs and diaspora luxury consumers in non-tourism sectors have also created new opportunities for the region, and these issues will be discussed in Parts II & III of “Defining Caribbean Luxury Lifestyle. “

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