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Rethinking the tourism economies of Caribbean nations

Nov 22, 2012 1:31 am

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A more integrated, holistic and sustainable approach to Caribbean tourism is needed — beyond the historic sun and sand — for long-lasting economic development.

— Rafat Ali

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 Mangrove Mike  / Flickr.com

The crush. Small island leased and developed by a cruise ship company to give an "authentic Bahamiam experience." Mangrove Mike / Flickr.com


There is indeed a continuing conversation in many global quarters pertaining to the type of prescription necessary for the revival of the Caribbean economies. In Washington, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Inter American Development Bank (IADB) are lamenting about the evolving middle class in Latin America and the Caribbean.

While they have exercised much care and caution about defining the specific nations where the middle class is emerging, we must not lose sight of the fact that these two powerful agencies have not substantially addressed the growing poverty issues and decrease in quality of life among certain sectors of the region’s population. In addition, there have been no indicators from these two agencies as to how an emerging middle class will contribute to the control of poverty; improve youth employment and improve the quality of life for the disadvantaged in a sustained manner.

To the great disappointment of many other global observers, the Washington and Geneva multilateralists are aggressively pursuing their selfish development agenda through deployment of financial resources and development of phony collaborative partnerships with their regional counterparts.

These agencies and their collaborators are yet to come forward with any viable and achievable suggestions regarding the revitalisation of our economies; managing our foreign policy reserves by decreasing imports and most important development strategies for a sustainable path that would the region’s social and economic ills.

Addressing youth unemployment; rural development; access to information technology tools and ensuring their initiatives that will bring tangible benefits to the disadvantaged are innovations and expectations that should become their key development and policy planks in the region.

As efforts and suggestions are developed for advancing and sustaining the Caribbean economies, there are at least three sectors that require immediate attention and hopefully will result in some improvements. However, it must be noted and recognized that successful and sustainable outcomes will be only be derived from a genuine change of attitude, recognition of the need for broad base planning participation and an acceptance that the global community is changing and Caribbean governments and institutions are obligated to fall in line with these global changes.

Agriculture has long been recognized as the central mainstay of Caribbean economies. Unfortunately, this economy has disappeared and there has been no coordinated or demonstrated effort to revive and sustain it. Short term tourist dollars seem to be the priority. Accumulation of foreign currency in any Caribbean nation should not be dependent only upon tourism.

Many of our small farmers have been abandoned as weak kneed regional policy experts associated with various governments have embarked upon a wild and ill fated chase for tourism dollars, which is unlikely to increase.

While the chase of tourism dollars might be justified by the weak knee policy experts, evidence clearly indicate that Caribbean economies should not rely only on a tourism sector, given global economic uncertainties in Europe and North America. Tourism should not be embraced as the saviour of Caribbean economies. Agriculture should be the priority.

In reviving and sustaining this important industry, there are several factors that require a radical change in thinking and perception about production and market penetration. The application of new information technology tools, identifying and building new partnerships ,creation and sustenance of a strong national marketing board that will assist agricultural stakeholders in exporting and selling their products.

The days of the Geest Line, Harrison Shipping, Atlantic Lines, the Saguenay and Canada Steamship Lines are remembered by many for transporting our agricultural products in better times. Unfortunately, maintenance and sustainability of these exports are disappearing and very little efforts are being advanced for production and export reliability of these products. Like the tourism industry, they are foreign currency income earners and this is why the rationale and need for the agricultural economy is vital to our future.

The tourism industry is an important sector for the region. While the importance of this industry is recognized and encouraged, like the agricultural industry, it also requires radical changes and understanding. The Caribbean tourism industry is very competitive and exceeds the old antique marketing strategy of white sand beaches, bikini clad women with tantalizing physique and beautiful white teeth.

Potential vacationers are looking at affordability, safety, quick, accessible transportation and potential venues or attractions that jug their interests. These expectations require many changes in the management of this industry. Pricing, target marketing and promotion are very essential if Caribbean nations are interested in holding their niche.

Tourism income earnings are fine and must always be encouraged. However, consideration must be given to a more intricate and sustainable link with our agricultural industry. Tourist vacationers must be encouraged to consume more local foods and other consumption goods associated with the tourist industry. The preservation of the local arts and craft industry is of critical importance. This would require effective monitoring and maintenance of existing legislation that addresses trade preference and import of these products. Irrespective of the World Trade Organization (WTO) hype, our local arts and crafts industries should always be protected.

As I examine the plight and future of the region’s disadvantaged, it is crystal clear that unemployment, sexual exploitation, youth delinquency, crime and lawlessness will continue to confront Caribbean governments. At the same time, many regional individuals have embarked upon further education only to discover after graduation that there are no immediate employment opportunities at home.

Therefore, Caribbean governments need to broaden their perception about other potential foreign income source. Given the decline of the tourism industry, the collapse of the agricultural industry and limited export products, the denial must end and our leaders need to get down to work to address local economic conditions and stop blaming global economic situation.

Jamaica and Barbados maintain fairly good tourism and trade infrastructures that earn them foreign exchange. However, these two CARICOM nations are actively and aggressively engaged in labour export that provides opportunities for their unemployed skilled workers to seek temporary foreign employment in the United States and Canada. While these two nations, like their other regional colleagues, are engaged in the Canadian seasonal farm workers program, they recognize that it is miniscule and there is need for sourcing other potential opportunities.

Many of our regional governments need to take a page from Barbados and Jamaica as labour export generates good foreign income and also contributes to the improvement of quality of life. Those regional governments with tunnel vision on labour export must understand that they need to go beyond the seasonal farm workers program.

Our governments can begin exploring new labour market opportunities by putting their consular officials to investigate and identify employment opportunities for skilled unemployed workers in their domain. Canada and other western nations have growing temporary employment opportunities that can utilize the skills of our employed. We need to move beyond the farm workers program.

Recognition and implementation of the above suggestions require our regional Ministries of Labour to become more innovative and forward looking in addressing labour market opportunities in their domain. They might wish to solicit the assistance of the Trinidad-based International Labour Office (ILO) if they decide to become innovative and creative. ___

(c)2012 the Caribbean News Now (Grand Cayman, Cayman Islands. Distributed by MCT Information Services. 

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