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AS I SEE THIINGS: Tourism and Caribbean development


Brian Francis

AS I SEE THIINGS: Tourism and Caribbean development

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Even though recent reports by the Caribbean Development Bank have suggested quite clearly that the best performing economies in the Caribbean over the past two to three years are those that rely heavily on commodities exports, whilst the countries in which tourism and services dominate have been recording lower economic growth rates, I remain totally convinced that our services industries, particularly tourism, hold the greatest promise for our future growth and development.

This conclusion is based on several factors, of which I will cite two. First, with the exception of a few countries (for example Belize and Guyana), there is no real opportunity for agriculture to lead the way in relation to economic transformation because of our inability to generate economies of scale. And when that issue is coupled with other important considerations such as high average costs of production and general lack of interest shown by many governments to fully exploit available opportunities in this important industry, it is not difficult to infer that agriculture will continually make a very small contribution to overall economic activity in the region. Second, over the past few decades many of our countries (for instance, Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, The Bahamas, and St Kitts and Nevis) have invested heavily in the development of “products” to facilitate the expansion of tourism. Clearly, those investments cannot now be reversed without massive unintended consequences for generations to come.  Hence, those countries have little choice but to allow tourism to continue to lead the way to recovery and eventual “take off”.

Assuming, then, that my conclusion that tourism will remain the key industry for Caribbean countries’ future economic growth and development is correct, it means unambiguously that all of our countries have to get it right when it comes to the manner in which they approach the development of this vibrant industry and how it is repositioned to bring the benefits that are so badly needed. But logically, there are several critical dimensions to getting it right. Let me now address two of those dimensions which really came to light as I read Issues And Analysis on pages 12 &13 of last week’s BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.

The first issue has to do with planning. How effectively do we in the Caribbean plan for a range of scenarios that can potentially affect the performances of our various tourism industries? On the left of Issues And Analysis Brian Samuel raised the question of the inevitable opening of the Cuban market and potential implications for countries such as Jamaica and The Bahamas, just to name two. Are we listening?

The second issue relates to the notion of “consumer databases”, as Winfield Griffith on the right of the debate called it. Given the importance of such databases to effective marketing, according to Griffith, why has there not been more visible aggression in this area?  Was the “very high price” the main reason why the establishment of this critical database has eluded us for so long?    

Going forward, I could only urge those in authority throughout the Caribbean to listen to the views of individuals and key stakeholders who care to volunteer them and where feasible incorporate all key ideas into real action to ensure that tourism is well placed to make its meaningful contribution to our economic growth and development. After all, I am certainly not aware of any other sector or industry that is capable of leading the way to our recovery and sustained growth and development.

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