Caribbean Hotel & Restaurant distribution – Before, now and future An overview of the evolution of the marketplace by an industry veteran.

July 26, 2006 (PRLEAP.COM) Business News
Caribbean Hotel & Restaurant distribution – Before, now and future

An overview of the evolution of the marketplace by an industry veteran.


My name is Allen Rosenthal. I have been a distributor throughout the Caribbean for the last 37years. Just like the rest of the world, things have changed drastically in that timeframe.

The 60’s
During my first trips starting in 1963, the communication tool of choice was Telex; it was slow, difficult to read and offered no flexibility whatsoever. It was unpredictable at best. At that time, phone communication was extremely expensive, complex and unreliable, typewriter was king and business was moving at snail speed. Any error in communication from any party was very heavy in consequence as getting in touch with the appropriate parties and verifying items were often cumbersome. Pan Am and Eastern Airlines were the only carriers with few routes and flights (daily shipping had no real meaning then). More or less each island had its boat shipping company, adding to the logistic maze was the fact that on a regular basis, if a shipping company was offered a last minute big shipment for an unscheduled trip, your shipment could be set aside until the boat finished its “surprise” trip. Most businesses were owned by individual entrepreneurs and “Mom and Pop” stores.

The 70’s
Every island moved as its own pace. Pan Am was gone and other carriers were born, more routes were open, freight transportation was a bit easier although during peak months delays occurred frequently, I remember sending, on occasion, some of my employees on a plane with 5,000 pounds of excess baggage to ensure deliveries (that finally ended around 1980). Some international boat shipping companies had made their appearance; container shipping was now a normal way to do business, specialists (per country, commodity…) were also improving the reliability of freight transport. Costs of shipping began to go down allowing more business creation. Local hotel and restaurant chains were also starting to grow and some international chains were also establishing themselves.

The 80’s
The fax was a major improvement to the business process although in many islands the phone lines were still quite unreliable, voicemail was appearing while computer systems were becoming the norm to many businesses from the accounting perspective not just yet on the commercial side. Fedex was used on a regular basis and Telex was on the decline (good riddance). International shipping was fully established and was becoming more an more affordable; where in the past most imports came from the United States, intra-island and some European countries, Asian imports (mainly China) were growing strong thanks to cheaper prices). Competition was growing and buyers were better informed on the different types of options and products available giving them better bargaining power and improving the flow of business. Due to the explosion of tourism, business was growing rapidly, individual businesses were growing in numbers and size. Chains in the islands became established and for the most part more chain hotels entered the marketplace.

The 90’s
Boat lines and airline were business friendly; daily shipping, fast connection, easier custom processes, better tracking applications, were conducive to better, faster and more regular shipping procedures. Suppliers were providing distributors with practical product information. Email and attachments started accelerating the business pace in the few islands that used it.

The internet has repercussions throughout the whole business chain. Buyers have much better access to information, giving them more buying power (as it should be) and choices. Distributors have powerful applications, giving them the ability to rapidly answers (on the fly for easy inquiry) Suppliers can communicate any change of their product line at flash speed; marketing has become a pillar of the sales process and product differentiation is becoming a factor in the buying process. Competition is coming from everywhere offering more choices and also, sometime, deception. Phone lines are dependable throughout the Caribbean; cellular phones are the craze (even more than in the US). Boat shipping and airline freight are highly dependable.

The future.
Mergers and concentrations will happen at the supplier, distributor and even buyers level. As the saying goes, the world is getting smaller, doing business in the Caribbean is becoming not so different than doing business in any other area. Clients have all the tools they need and therefore are more and more sophisticated. Suppliers provide more diversity and are working hard to make their sales process as easy and integrated as possible with improved online presence and more technical customer services. Loyalty programs and Value Added Resellers (VARs) will be some of the marketing programs used to ensure long term clientele. Shipping/customs is also better integrated and fully traceable.
The buying process is becoming more of a commodity and therefore distributors must see themselves as their clients advocates and share their goals (walk in their moccasins) so that they can differentiate themselves in the mind of their clients by the quality, choice and services they provide.

The only thing that has stayed the same for me is the level of pleasure I have every time I visit my friends in the Caribbean where most of the islanders have avoided the crazy pace that we gringos have adopted. Looking forward to the upcoming years, business is as fun as ever!

Allen Rosenthal

About Allen Rosenthal
Allen Rosenthal is the president of Hotel Restaurant Warehouse located in Fort Lauderdale, ex-board of Director of the Caribbean Hotel Association and industry veteran for 44 years.
Contact: Allen Rosenthal at 954 358 2112 or