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THE ISSUE: Affordable, reliable airlines a must


Shawn Cumberbatch

THE ISSUE: Affordable, reliable airlines a must

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It is no secret that Barbados depends heavily on tourism for its livelihood.
Also well known is the fact that the Caribbean tourism market is vital to the sector’s success.
With overall regional tourism challenged by various factors, including economic recession, reduced airlift and costly fares, Barbados and other tourism-dependent countries in the Caribbean are heading into 2014 with much uncertainty about the industry.
There is a school of thought that rather than individual destinations marketing themselves, they should come together and market the region as one destination.
This was a view voiced recently by Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) chairman Beverly Nicholson-Doty, who told participants attending this year’s State of the Industry Conference in Martinique that their sector continued to be challenged and business as usual was not an option.
“One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean cannot be just a feel-good slogan or a tagline that we embrace when we meet a few times a year but it must be the strategic marketing reality of our region if we are to survive the aggressive marketing efforts of major destinations around the world,” she said.
The official urged regional tourism officials to be concerned about how they could preserve what was authentically Caribbean while remaining relevant, competitive and sustainable.
“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 added.
Nicholson-Doty also said “a vibrant tourism sector requires a firm, yet flexible and astute partnership between the public and private sectors”.
Barbados’ Minister of Tourism and International Transport, Richard Sealy, is one of the regional tourism officials who has singled out intra-regional travel as one of the key areas in need of resolving if the industry was to flourish.
On March 29 last year he said the true potential of regional tourism would only be realized through viable travel options for Caribbean people.
“Events drive regional visitors and we all know right now, with all that is happening and our other challenges with respect to regional travel, that we also need to have more events to attract [regional tourists] . . . . It is not often realized that the Caribbean is actually our third largest source market, Canada is our fourth – it’s the UK, US and CARICOM [that are our main revenue generators]. So getting traffic to come here around events is important,” he noted.
Sealy said the demise of REDjet was therefore regrettable, specifically “the way the fares have gone right back up in the air”.
“I would sincerely hope that another venture along those lines can come into reality very soon so that the consumers of Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean can benefit,” the minister added.
In February, the Caribbean Centre for Money and Finance issued a newsletter in which it outlined the challenges facing Caribbean tourism, which were internal and external. The organization’s executive director Professor Compton Bourne noted that “Caribbean tourism has substantially lagged behind its counterparts in Central America and South America between 2005 and 2011”.
Bourne, who is a former Caribbean Development Bank president, said: “The average annual growth rate of stopover arrivals in the Caribbean was less than two per cent compared to almost five per cent in Central America and nearly six per cent in South America.
Within the Caribbean itself, CARICOM destinations have been performing less well than non-CARICOM destinations.
“Between 2005 and 2012, the average annual percentage change was negative in The Bahamas (-2.8), Barbados (-0.9), St Lucia (-0.4), and St Vincent and the Grenadines (-3.2), and close to zero in Antigua and Barbuda. Only Jamaica and Grenada, with average annual changes of 4.5 per cent and 2.4 per cent, respec-tively, achieved growth in international arrivals.
“In sharp contrast, non-CARICOM destinations experienced substantial growth rates, such as 10.3 per cent in Curaçao, 3.3 per cent in the Dominican Republic, 3.1 per cent in Cuba and three per cent in Aruba. The global economic crisis negatively impacted all Caribbean destinations with reductions in tourist arrivals in 2009, except in Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica,” the economist added.
Just last week at her organization’s final quarterly meeting for this year, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association president Patricia Affonso-Dass pointed to the overall decline in visitor arrivals to the island, including the important Caribbean market.
“Long-stay arrivals for November 1 to 28, 2013, showed a decline of 1 000 visitors, or -2.5 per cent, over 2012. Cumulatively, for the year to date, we have seen a decline of -5.8 per cent or a decrease of 27 778 visitors. When compared with 2011, it represents a decline of almost 60 000 visitors. This decline is being manifested in the tax collections of Government, a drop in our Tourism Fund revenues, and impacts employment,” she said.
“The USA market, followed by Trinidad & Tobago, other Caribbean and Latin America, the UK and Canada have all registered deep declines.”
With Barbados now into what is traditionally its most lucrative tourism season – the winter – the true state of the sector, including the Caribbean market, will be known by the end of April.

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