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|Tourism industry urged to focus on new products and markets|
|Monday, 02 April 2012 21:10|
Specialist in Caribbean Affairs
THE Caribbean tourism industry, which has been faced with ongoing challenges over the past decade, and has implemented value added programmes and used creativity to sustain business, is being urged to consider new strategies to remain competitive. The President of the Barbados-based Caribbean Development Bank, Dr. Warren Smith, who took over at the helm of the CDB almost a year ago, believes product diversification is imperative for the key foreign exchange earning tourism sector.
Smith told me that some of the region’s tourism destinations need new attractions if they are to maintain the interest of international visitors.
The CDB head also advocates an increase in linkages between the hospitality and agricultural sectors, so that farmers can benefit from secure and reliable markets and their rural incomes can improve. Smith identified sustainability of agricultural supplies and quality as key issues and underscored that inventory managers in hotels need to “be on the ball” to meet the needs of guests.
To attract visitors, who are being cautious about spending, the region’s hospitality industry has been enhancing product value by offering add-ons such as massages and free breakfasts.
The CDB President advocates broadening the source markets for tourism, with particular emphasis on South America, especially Brazil. While some inroads have been made in recent years, Smith is calling for a “systematic programme” to develop the South American market. Only last month, Guyana’s President Donald Ramotar highlighted the importance of the South American market for CARICOM products and joint ventures.
Smith identified as a critical component of aggressively trying to lure more South American tourists, adequate and reliable flights into those markets. Some countries such as Barbados have direct flights to Brazil.
Dr. Smith says there is a need to shift focus because of the continuing challenges in the U.S. and debt plagued European markets. While the U.S. unemployment numbers (8.2% in February) have been encouraging in recent times, “there is still a lot of uncertainty and it is difficult to predict sustained recovery”.
Canada has been one of the “bright spots” for Caribbean tourism. The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) reports that some countries such as Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda and Curacao experienced double-digit increases in arrivals from Canada.
However, the CDB President is concerned that the current tightening of Canada’s fiscal position can have a negative impact on the region. Both the provincial Ontario and Federal governments are facing massive debts and have announced belt-tightening measures in their recent annual budgets.
Smith, who is a former CEO of the regional airline LIAT, also believes it is time regional airlift issues be resolved. To succeed in finding a regional solution, in his view, requires detailed collaboration “and a willingness to do so”.
The aviation expert pointed to “some very thin markets” in the Eastern Caribbean that present economic challenges. However, he believes there must be a mechanism for ensuring a certain degree of travel to those markets, with service at important times when people want to travel.
“I am convinced that if you have an airline that operates on a purely commercial basis, some countries in the region will suffer badly. There needs to be a willingness to find a solution for the common benefit of the entire region.” Smith advised me.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Ralph Gonsalves, told me recently that Trinidad and Tobago’s Caribbean Airlines Limited (CAL) has an unfair competitive edge over LIAT, because its fuel is subsidised; and he also accused the airline of “cherry picking” routes to the disadvantage of Vincentians. The recent meeting of CARICOM leaders in Suriname addressed some of the regional transportation issues in bilateral discussions.
The CDB president observed that there is a lot of public discussion on regional air transportation, which key players like Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and Antigua and Barbuda are no doubt aware of. A final resolution to this protracted issue, according to Smith, is possibly maintaining more than one airline. “Competition is good and there could be a sharing of markets.”
The CDB President also believes more attention needs to be paid to the impact of crime on the region’s tourism industry, and the root causes of escalating criminal activity in some countries. “There is evidence to suggest that there is a strong correlation between the security of citizens and economic growth,” the head of the Caribbean’s premier financial institution said.