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THE ISSUE: One region, one tourism product


SHERRYLYN CLARKE, [email protected]

THE ISSUE: One region, one tourism product

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Hundreds of tourism industry representatives are expected to assemble in the United States Virgin Islands next week for what many of them consider the region’s leading tourism conference.

It is the annual State of the Industry Conference organised by the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), a meeting the CTO said would see tourism practitioners, policy makers, strategic partners from the public and private sectors, academics and travel professionals gathering “to discuss issues, identify solutions and generally develop courses of action that will benefit the tourism industry in the Caribbean”.

Few islands – if any – are as heavily dependent on tourism as Barbados is. The industry earns the island the majority of its foreign exchange and has done so for several years now.

So that when the sector was crippled during the economic recession, the economy felt the brunt of the spill over.

Officials here have been taking a number of steps to revive the industry, including increasing the emphasis on marketing and product development.

But local tourism officials would have also realised that the challenges facing Barbados were generally not peculiar to the island, including reduced visitor arrivals from major markets in North America and Europe, problems with airlift and reduced marketing expenditure.

These issues have been compounded by the fact that Caribbean destinations are competing among each other for foreign visitors, who are coming in smaller numbers.

With this in mind, analysts have been wondering if Barbados and other islands are doing enough to exploit the benefits of tourism.

CTO chairman Beverly Nicholson-Doty thinks one of the solutions to the tourism challenges now faced by the Caribbean is marketing the region as one destination.

“First of all, I think when you look at the competitive landscape, I think the why is we cannot afford not to.

“When you look at other regions of the world and what they’ve done with their tourism product, I think that places that never would have been considered competition for the region, because we have such natural, God-given beauty, are now in our competitive set,” she said recently.

“So the region now has to come together; none of our individual countries have the resources to go up against some of the big tourism destinations that we’ve seen emerge so it’s important for our survival, for us to have a collective brand that is the Caribbean.

“We know that we have the product but it’s getting it out to market that is important and so the why is working together we can increase our interest and bookings to the region and we feel like we have more than 30 reasons for people to keep coming back to the Caribbean over and over again.”

Minister of Tourism and International Transport Richard Sealy detailed how Barbados would be approaching the issue of tourism diversification and the overall development of the industry when he spoke at the opening of last week’s 22nd Inter-American Congress of Ministers and High-level Authorities of Tourism at Hilton Barbados.

He said diversification needed to be accompanied by airlift from non-traditional destinations and that Barbados would not simply focus on North America and Europe while ignoring the potential of creating direct air routes with Latin America.

He referred to Barbados’ decision to former a partnership with Brazilian airline GOL.

“This service has contributed approximately 4 641 visitors from this new market in 2013.

Sao Paulo, the largest city in the Americas and a major centre for both culture and economic activity, represents the first gateway in our plans to expand into South America,” he said.

Sealy also said the effort to increase airlift would be accompanied by a marketing and communications programme that was appealing to tourists.

The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) is one international body that thinks countries like Barbados that are so heavily dependent on tourism should do more to develop the industry.

In a statement accompanying WTTC’s recent annual economic data report, its president and chief executive officer David Scowsill said policies “need to be implemented to increase tourism receipts and jobs”.

“The data underlines travel and tourism’s undeniable status as a driver of growth. Some countries have taken huge positive strides with visa facilitation over the past few years.

“But many countries’ economic contribution from travel and tourism is still being held back, particularly due to restrictive visa policies,” he said.

 

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