Stakeholder consensus on factors for tourism's success in the C'bean

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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ST JAMES, Jamaica (JIS) — Caribbean tourism officials, including Jamaica's Portfolio Minister, Edmund Bartlett, believe greater air access from source markets and significant hotel investments are recipes for the industry's success in the region.

They note that it is against this background that countries like Jamaica have been active in the marketplace, securing arrangements for more non-stop flights out of non-traditional destinations to add to airlift already in place directly out of the proverbial 'bread and butter' markets of the United States, Canada and Europe.

“As a way of enhancing the competitiveness of the region's tourism sector, we must be prepared to enter into discussions with several airlines and tour companies to discuss the way forward in terms of possibly introducing new locations to our respective destinations. We must also aggressively target promising markets in South America, Europe, Asia and even promote more seriously the idea of intra-regional tourism,” Bartlett noted.

He said his team has been on the road in Europe where “we had a number of major accomplishments”. “We had some breakthrough arrangements where there will be additional non-stop flights between Europe and Jamaica to start this summer as well as the opening up of other markets in Europe. We will also be seeing an increase in European cruise activities and heightened investor interest in the island,” the minister further informed.

Jamaica, which is now ranked as the number-one Caribbean destination for British tourists, also welcomed a record 325,804 European tourists last year, approximately 31,000 more than 2016.

“The Caribbean remains the most tourism-dependent region in the world. Tourism is the single largest generator of foreign exchange in 16 of the 28 countries in the Caribbean and also the sector receiving the most foreign direct investment,” Bartlett pointed out.

Additionally, he said stakeholders already acknowledge that the future of the Caribbean's tourism industry may rest in the “economic convergence (across) complementary economies”.

“Considering this fact, we need to look into the feasibility of multi-destination arrangements that will increase intra-regional tourist flows and promote mutual benefits for more destinations in the region,” the minister added.

Bartlett noted that the countries in the north-western and south-eastern Caribbean are well positioned to embrace this new architecture as their geographic alignments are clear and well within 90 minutes of each other by air or sea, thus making it easy for island-hopping and experiential enrichment for visitors.

Additionally, he said that in establishing multi-destinations, critical mass will be created for large investments in hotels, infrastructure, agriculture and manufacturing.

“For our part, we continue aggressively pursuing a multi-destination marketing arrangement with Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican Republic. As we explore the opportunities, we must also seek regional cooperation in related areas such as aviation and airlift strategies to move seamlessly within the region, visa facilitation and access to each other's destinations, as well as pre-clearance arrangements,” the minister added.

For his part, Director of Research at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Ryan Skeete, told journalists at a recent press briefing on the Tourism Industry Performance Review at the CTO Headquarters in Warrens, St Michael, Barbados, that the region's tourism product attained another milestone in 2017, surpassing 30 million stopover visitors for the first time and generating an estimated US$37 billion in earnings.

He attributed this to bullish efforts by a number of Caribbean countries in the international marketplace, which, he noted, was achieved despite the onset of devastating hurricanes in September.

“The performance in 2017 was primarily supported by sustained economic growth in all of our major source markets. Our major source market, the US, grew by approximately 0.5 per cent to reach an estimated 14.9 million visits to the region. This performance was attributed to solid economic growth, low unemployment rate and high consumer confidence in the US,” Skeete informed.

He further noted that arrivals from the European market totaled 5.8 million and improved by an estimated 6.2 per cent.

This, he pointed out, represented the strongest growth among the main markets, despite terrorist attacks in some countries and the ongoing Brexit negotiations, among other factors.

“Visits from the Canadian market rebounded in 2017, growing by 4.3 per cent compared to a decline of 3.1 per cent in 2016. The country's strong economic performance and increased seat capacity to the region helped support this recovery,” Skeete added.

Meanwhile, CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley, who also spoke at the press briefing, said reinforcing the value and attributes of the Caribbean brand, educating the public and the travel industry on the Caribbean's geography, and generating demand for the region's tourism product will take time, careful strategy and money.

“In other words, establishing leadership of the Caribbean brand requires more than just sparsely funded, ad-hoc efforts. Tourism is a serious business. It employs, directly and indirectly, 13.7 per cent of the people in the Caribbean, and it contribute, in total, from seven to over 80 per cent to gross domestic product across the region,” he said.

Riley further emphasised that tourism “is the business that delivers foreign exchange every time a plane lands and a cruise ship docks”, adding that “it reduces unemployment and delivers massive amounts of tax dollars to our national treasuries”.

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