Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Chairman Beverly Nicholson-Doty says Caribbean nations must decide how they can preserve what is authentically Caribbean, while remaining relevant, competitive and sustainable.
Speaking at the formal opening ceremony of the 2013 State of the Industry Conference in Martinique last night, Nicholson-Doty said the Caribbean has faced many challenges.
“As your chairman for the past year, I can only describe my experience as “baptism by fire”, she said at what is one of the most important business meetings on the region’s tourism calendar.
“We have faced many challenges – from slow growth, unpredictable airlift and onerous taxation – both external and internal – which impacts the cost of vacations to our region. And we have also lacked the political will to move our regional marketing programme along fast enough to ensure we remain competitive as the most sought-after warm weather destination.”
She said a vibrant tourism sector requires a firm, yet flexible and astute partnership between the public and private sectors.
“Many of our governments have invested significant resources into improving our public infrastructure, and we now need the continued help of our private sector partners to upgrade and enhance our tourism product which is critical to maintaining our competitive position in the global marketplace,” she said.
“Our competitors may not be able to match our destinations’ natural beauty, but many of them have the resources and the sheer will to make reaching our goals even more difficult.
“While the Caribbean is blessed by a bounty of natural resources, we are in no short supply of creativity, energy, vision and enthusiasm,” Nicholson-Doty said.
“Yet, I remain concerned. Because as a region we are great debators — we’re big on lyrics but slow on implementation.”
Nicholson-Doty said it’s time to take the blinders off , and time to wake up to today’s realities.
“Tourism remains our primary economic earner in the Caribbean, period. And I talk not just about jobs and incomes earned from hotels and resorts, but the obvious linkages that we don’t talk about – to agriculture, construction, health, education and the financial services sector.
“The global market is growing so rapidly that if we fall behind it is going to be so much more difficult and much more expensive, to catch up.”
She added: “It is time for all of us, both public and private sectors, to walk the talk of product development and of course, regional marketing. It is sink or swim for the Caribbean, and the choice is in our hands.”