Opinion August 26, 2016 | 12:30 pm

A new regional context for tourism

A few days ago, Karolin Troubetzkoy, thePresident of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), spoke to themedia about some of the challenges that she believes now face the tourismsector in the region; the industry that in recent years has become the singlelargest contributor to Caribbean economic growth.

Her comments, which identified a numberof issues that the industry in the Caribbean faces, were intended to previewthe September 30 to October 2 Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum(CHIEF) in Puerto Rico, which she hopes will set the scene for the industry to‘open (its) eyes to the bigger picture.’

First on her list was the huge growth intravel to Cuba which approximately 2.1m travellers visited during the first sixmonths of 2016; an 11.7 percent increase over the same period in 2015. WhileCHTA is developing a closer working relationship with the Cuban industry, therewere questions, she said, about the likely effect such growth will have on therest of the region and how best the industry might respond to the imminent startof scheduled air services from US cities.

Another major challenge she identified wasthe need for hoteliers in the region to come to terms with the rise of disruptivetechnologies like Airbnb that are taking market share away from the propertiesin the region. There had been, she said, a change in consumer thinking,requiring the traditional industry to find creative ways to make the sharingeconomy work to its advantage.

She also spoke about other areas thatshe hoped the tourism sector would give thought to: the effects of the Zikavirus on travel; the UK decision to leave the European Union; the increased risksposed by global terrorism; high airfares; rising hotel operating costs; andineffective marketing efforts by some in the industry.

However, behind her focus on specificsis the belief that there needs to be a fresh regional perspective on tourism.

In remarks whichaim to place Caribbean the industry firmly in a new regional context, she toldme: “If ever there was a time to stop recounting past failures and create afresh and new dynamic to safeguard and sustainably grow our Caribbean’s tourismindustry for generations to come, it is now. Hoteliers, tourism-relatedbusinesses and Governments throughout the region can no longer afford tooperate independently, nor look at tourism in isolation of the entiresocio-economic landscape.”

Her comments suggest forward thinking, theemergence of a much clearer public voice for CHTA’s members in its dialoguewith governments and multilateral institutions, and greater clarity about moreclosely integrating tourism into the fabric of the region.

Mrs Troubetzkoy, who with her husband owns and runs Jade Mountain in StLucia, however recognises that whilethe industry believes that tourism is everyone’s business, this message has notyet translated sufficiently into action. There is a need, she says, forbusiness and Government to work towards common interests.

What seems to be little realised beyondthe industry is that the structure of tourism in the Caribbean has changedsignificantly over the last few years, requiring a new understanding across theregion of how best to address industry concerns and ensure its long term rolein generating regional economic prosperity.

In the last decade the industry has fragmented,so that today it consists of large and small indigenous operators; increasingnumbers of externally owned or manged chain hotels that for the most part are lessinterested in engaging in issues of common concern; and a growing number ofcompletely new interests from China, Singapore and other parts of the world buildingmega hotels, led sometimes not by industry considerations, but for example therelated investment value of citizenship by investment programmes.

There are also otherlonger standing issues that require better understanding and attention according to Frank Comito, the life-long industry and associationprofessional who took over as CHTA’s Director General in 2015. These are the cost and ease of airlift, high operatingcosts and taxes, the lack of strong regional and destination marketing,environmental degradation, and the personal development of those who work inthe industry.

He emphasises that there needs to be a greater understanding in theregion and externally of what tourism now does and can do for Governments andtheir people, observing that the industry’s development offers the fastest wayfor Governments to generate jobs, tax revenue and create new businessopportunities.

The challenge, hesays, is to have sufficient resources and commitment, particularly from theregion’s private sector, to help manage the necessary change process, stressingthe need for the organisation to see the engagement of more of the largeroperators and brands in the sector, particularly from the all-inclusiveresorts, in the process of affecting change.

While he is, hesays, heartened by the interest now being shown by public and private sectorleaders when it comes to addressing tourism-related issues, and is encouragedby recent discussions with regional and international multilateralorganisations, he remains cautious, hoping that such exchanges will in facttranslate into action.

Few would argue that tourism can be thepanacea for all of the economic problems facing the Caribbean, but over thelast two decades the industry in the region has continued to develop in ways thathave demonstrated its ability to spread benefit widely, so that many onceagriculture-dependent economies now look to tourism for GDP growth, employment,foreign exchange earnings and government revenues.

CHTA and its membership’s willingness tolook outwards, engage in advocacy, and recognise the need for the industry tobe more closely integrated into the region’s overall development is to be welcomed.As one of the few truly representative, pan-Caribbean private sector bodies, itneeds to be more closely engaged by governments and regional institutions indialogue, and its objectives and programmes better supported by multilateralinstitutions and developmental bodies.

David Jessop is a consultant to theCaribbean Council and can be contacted at david.jessop@caribbean-council.org

Previous columns be found at www.caribbean-council.org

August 26th, 2016

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