Business of Tourism

David Jessop, Consultant and Non-Executive Director of the Caribbean Council, writes a fortnightly column providing a European perspective on Caribbean tourism, which is syndicated and widely read in the Caribbean press. An archive of the Business of Tourism can be found below.

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The Business of Tourism David Jessop

The challenge that will soon face almost every Caribbean country will be the recovery of tourism, without which future economic growth will be all but impossible.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered the industry globally, made hundreds of thousands of workers unemployed, pushed many hotels, airlines and cruise companies into financial meltdown, and caused travellers to fear placing themselves at risk in any situation where public health cannot be guaranteed.

For the Caribbean, the most tourism dependent region of the world, the obvious consequence is an urgent need to consider when it can reopen for business, how it positions itself when international travel again becomes possible, and if it should adapt its offering.

Some Caribbean countries, most notably Jamaica, are already well ahead of the curve. Its tourism ministry has put in place a multi-disciplinary task force to determine not just how and when to bring visitors back, but to review and ask difficult questions about its tourism model, if change is needed to respond to altered visitor sentiment, and to recognise long- term industry trends.

At a recent online press conference, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, set out Government’s thinking about the issues that need to be addressed.

He identified the key areas that a new task force will consider. In outline these are: to establish a realistic view of the tourism baseline that Jamaica has to recover from; give consideration to multiple alterative versions of the island’s tourism future; establish as far as possible a time line; and to develop a strategic posture for the journey back the sector will have to make, taking account of national imperatives and scenarios. He also spoke about the need for strategies that create a much closer integration with agriculture and new data led thinking about market development.

It is an approach that recognises that tourism and the manner in which it recovers will not be as before and that thought needs to be given to forms of sustainability that go far beyond the arrivals numbers game that the industry likes to play.

Although it is early days yet, it is already possible to identify in general some of the challenges that post-COVID tourism recovery teams will have to consider in developing exit strategies.

One of the greatest but so far little spoken about issues, absent either a vaccine and/or some form of reliable health certification for every visitor, is that the virus could asymptomatically be imported into the region from countries that have not done enough, have failed to deliver an efficient response, or are simply in denial.

Visitor receiving countries will then find themselves in the invidious position of having to take a political decision on which countries have done all that is necessary to restore public health and then in all likelihood having to agree bilaterally with the country concerned the basis on which visitors from those nations can travel.

Without a vaccine, such an eventuality will remain politically and electorally sensitive for several years and have xenophobic implications. It will also impact on the frequency of air and sea lift, foreign relations, public health policy, taxation, food security, insurance provisions, and much else, well before the marketing specialists are able to begin addressing consumer perception and willingness to travel.

Secondly it is likely that in the Caribbean’s major source markets of North America and the EU, both region’s hit hard by the virus, their governments may not immediately encourage external travel, preferring to incentivise staycations in an attempt to stimulate domestic economic growth and protect public health.

Thirdly, although industry optimists are hoping to see visitors return this coming winter season based on the statistics on recovery after 9/11 and the 2017/18 global financial crisis, these provide no guide to where the world economy and by extension tourism now is. At best the world is about to enter a recession and without concerted multilateral global cooperation on the edge of a depression.

It may also be that case that not every category of visitor the Caribbean has welcomed in the past will wish or be able to travel. While it is likely that least at risk higher spending categories such as millennials and their children will be the first to want to do so, older travellers may be reluctant and may no longer be able to obtain medical or travel insurance to visit markets or via nations deemed to be at higher risk. Moreover, hotels and other visitor facilities may be cautious about litigation should the virus reappear in a manner traceable to one of their properties or facilities.

There is also much to be considered in relation to the cruise lines, the need first to stimulate employment-generating long-stay land-based tourism, and the still missing regional response to the cruise company’s divisive approach to destinations.

Addressing these and other issues will require much thought, joined up local and regional solutions, a high degree of realism about how markets will reopen, and most likely fierce global competition as all nations see isitors as the means to rapidly power economic growth.

It all suggests a time horizon for the start, not the end of Caribbean recovery, being as late as the fall or winter of 2021.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at
Previous columns can be found at

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

The statistics vary, but reliable Caribbean and international entities suggest that the region’s tourism sector is now delivering on average directly and indirectly about 40.6% of the Caribbean’s GDP, although in Aruba, Antigua, Barbados, The Bahamas, the OECS states and most overseas territories tourism the figure is much higher.

Detailed country by country analysis and statistics produced by the IMF suggest that sustaining the contribution tourism makes has become critical to the long-term economic stability of almost every Caribbean nation other than Trinidad, Suriname and Guyana.

Despite this, little thought has been given to how to future proof the industry as disruptive technologies take their toll, the region’s largely sun, sea and sand high-volume offering becomes subject to multiple global pressures likely to affect traveller sentiment, and international competition increases.

Industry analysts say that the megatrends that determine what visitors want, expect, and where they will go, are changing and that macro developments affecting travel and tourism globally may damage those industries that fail to understand how these will change every destination’s prospects. Demographics, new ways of thinking about vacations among a globally expanding middle class, and the ability of large numbers of citizens of China, India, Latin America, and Russia to travel widely will, they believe, mean that tomorrow’s tourism is likely to be very different.

Recognising this, the Paris based OECD, which brings together 36 of the world’s like-minded wealthy nations, has for several years been focussing on long-term trends affecting tourism and the reforms needed to ensure sustainability.

This has resulted in the production of detailed assessments of the structural changes it believes will shape the future of tourism globally

What the OECD concludes in its recent publication ‘Analysing Megatrends to Better Shape the Future of Tourism’, is that tourism policy makers need to develop a better understanding of trends and develop a strategic approach which sees regulatory frameworks and industry governance updated. It also proposes the adoption of policy responses to disruptive developments such as growing consumer concern about levels of aviation and maritime carbon emissions, the use of artificial intelligence, data gathering, and the use new monetary instruments, all of which it believes will become potent issues for visitors.

What the OECD’s analysts indicate is that global demographic change will see the nature of visitor demand change and that industries around the world will have to adapt. They recommend that states begin to prepare for tech-oriented newer generations of visitors with different aspirations, an increase in ageing travellers who will have special needs, and determine how they will respond to travellers from nations with different cultural norms and expectations who will come to represent the bulk of international travellers. 

They also suggest that unregulated tourism growth will increasingly impact on host communities and the natural environment. This they say will require governments to deliver policies that ensure a low-impact low-carbon future for the industry and a require a political response to ‘overtourism’. The report’s authors argue that technology will radically reshape the industry causing it and governments to have to think carefully about how a destination trades off cost savings and efficiencies against the value of customer experience. 

The OECD’s analysts explore, too, how newer generations will exert growing influence over international norms, modes of transport, security, free movement across borders, and the environmental impact of travel, such issues will become the subject of intense international debate and behavioural change.

What is surprising is that the Caribbean, ‘the most tourism dependent region in the world’, has no well thought through long-term analysis or strategy of this kind.

This suggests that not only should the OECD document be read in a Caribbean context by those who lead tourism in the region and by anyone with an interest in sustainability, but also that industry professionals should be asking why the region has no tourism related vehicle able to analyse future change in this way in order to prepare it for the visitor of tomorrow.

One obvious way to achieve this would be to reinvent the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) as a body able to undertake long-term strategic research, but this would require significant long-term funding and a consistent approach. Another would be to have its private sector counterpart, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) convene a meeting that looks far over the horizon involving governments.

However, neither approach is likely to be enough. The issues involved require ‘whole of government’ thinking and policy solutions that can be delivered by the public and private sectors at both a national and regional level.

While some tourism ministers, most notably Jamaica’s, are engaged in thinking about how to ensure that the industry spreads its benefits in a socially and environmentally sustainable manner, what is also required is longer-term holistic thinking about the mega-trends identified by the OECD that could upend the industry internationally.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

11 December 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

The opportunity to relax in an idyllic environment is for most what makes a Caribbean vacation so special. Understanding this, is why the region has been able to grow its tourism product so successfully and cater for almost every type of visitor, whether seeking sun and sea or a cultural experience.

To underpin this the governments and the industry have strived to create an environment that is safe, and as far as possible risk and incident free, despite the grittiness of everyday life for many Caribbean citizens.

This is not unreasonable. Tourism has become the single most important contributor to national and regional economic development, providing through visitor taxes and spending a significant part of the revenue needed for education, health care and other forms of social provision.

However, what high levels of visitor dependence does do, is place host nations at economic and reputational risk when incidents happen, whether caused by natural disasters, health concerns, crime and violence, or terrorism. 

The issue and who is responsible for ensuring visitor safety and security has therefore become of increasing importance. 

This topic was addressed by a panel earlier this month at World Travel Market in London. There, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, said that to help address the matter, Jamaica had developed a ‘manual of tourism ethics’.

Scheduled to be released a little later this year and the first to be produced in the Caribbean, this handbook would he said propose a new security architecture for tourism. Based on the outcome of an island-wide security audit of hotels and attractions the document will be used to ensure that Jamaica remains a secure destination for visitors and those who work in and around the industry.

In the same session Minister Bartlett expressed concern about what he described as the economically damaging effects of travel advisories issued by governments in source markets. He called for “global oversight” arguing that such notices have a potentially negative effect on the economic viability and stability of nations that are tourism dependent.

How this might work was not made clear as the US, Canada, the countries of Europe, and others like Australia and Japan, regularly issue such advice independently and as a part of their legal duty of care to their citizens.

Such notices inform about the risks a visitor might face when traveling to a particular country, usually in relation to crime, terrorism or public health.

The objective of such advice according to diplomats, is to meet citizens’ expectations that their government will warn them of risk and have in place the appropriate consular services to protect them if required.

For the most part, officials recognise that too strident or disproportionate a warning could result in economic damage to the country concerned and its tourism industry. However, the same diplomats also observe that the published advice must respond to events and media coverage, and in some countries reflect host nations inability to tackle or solve visitor related crime, or to address crime more generally. They also indicate that in the case of some smaller nations in the Caribbean the notices published may reflect an unwillingness of the local authorities to admit the serious nature of the crimes involved or their frequency.

To confuse matters, different governments in the region’s key visitor source markets adopt different approaches. It is therefore quite possible at any one time to find the US, British or Canadian governments issuing advisories that vary in tone or even content.

So contentious have some country’s travel advisories become that behind the scenes they are the subject of difficult high level political or diplomatic exchanges about both the detail and the robustness of the language used.

What this serves to illustrate is the tension between governments and tourist boards in regions like the Caribbean that want visitors to believe that all is well and that nothing will trouble a vacation, and the legal and moral responsibility that governments in source markets say they have to inform their citizens and the travel trade about issues in certain destinations.

While there can never be any guarantees or certainty anywhere in relation to risk, one obvious way forward is for governments in both receiving and sending nations is to be por active, speak more, amd be prepared to respond honestly and accurately when challenges occur. It also means reacting rapidly and responsibly when any threat to visitor safety occurs.

The problem, if that is the right word, is that vacations exist to encourage visitors to relax and increasingly to seek out experience and the authentic. The paradox is that if in the process of a relaxing Caribbean vacation they become too trusting and less aware, they may be more likely to be caught up in the unexpected or in dangerously evolving situations, in ways that no travel advisory or security audit can ever address.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

13 November 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Cruise tourism has become a big business, with the Caribbean now accounting for more than 35% of all such vacations globally. This year more ships will sail in or through Caribbean waters than in any other part of the world, with many of the hundreds of new vessels under construction destined to do the same.

Despite this, no government or industry body has yet been able to come to terms with how little the cruise lines contribute to the local economy, government revenues or Caribbean development. Nor have they found ways that equitably relate cruise tourism to the national economic importance of the hotel sector, the ancillary onshore demand that long stay visitors create, or the higher taxes they pay.

Statistics produced by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) show that there were 29.2m cruise ship arrivals into the Caribbean in 2018, a figure roughly equal to the 30.2m long stay visitors who came by air to stay in hotels and other onshore facilities.

However, these figures are misleading. Cruise ship passengers almost all stayed for only a small part of a day and visited multiple countries, raising questions about double counting. In contrast visitors who arrived by air stayed on average in a single location for seven nights contributing according to CTO 11.5 times more than cruise passengers to the local economy and government revenues.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little in the way of consistent or reliable recent reporting as to exactly how much either category of visitors spend.

Figures produced by the cruise industry, governments and tourist boards provide some in indication, but for not well explained reasons vary significantly from country to country and are not up to date.

Reports relating to 2015 indicate that cruise visitors to the USVI spent between US$138 and US$158 while the average visitor arriving there by air spent between $200 to $250 each day of their stay. However, figures for other destinations for the same year are much lower with, for example, cruise visitors to the Bahamas recorded as spending US$83 and to Barbados US$78.

Help is however at hand to better understand the impact of cruise tourism.

In June, the Washington-based Center for Responsible Travel (CREST) published a detailed and balanced study. ‘Cruise Tourism in the Caribbean: Selling Sunshine’ edited by the organisation’s outgoing Executive Director, Dr Martha Honey, sets out for industry professionals the ways in which governments, tourist boards, citizens and the industry might change the nature of future discourse with the cruise lines.

Apart from containing a contemporary analysis of cruise tourism, its environmental and social impacts, and the effects of climate change and overtourism, its 180 pages outline the reforms needed if cruise tourism is to bring greater benefit to the region. 

Although some of the solutions it proposes will undoubtedly prove controversial with the cruise industry. the publication identifies y practical ways to resolves the many conundrums the industry has created. It offers ideas as to how to address the issue of the low head taxes that the cruise lines presently pay to government, suggests the need to incentivise home porting, indicates the important lessons to be learned from the negative experiences of Venice and Barcelona, discusses length of stay, and points to the positive models elsewhere the region might emulate.

But more importantly ‘Selling Sunshine’ suggests the need for a cruise industry that is genuinely Caribbean focused rather than one that exists solely to benefit the big cruise companies. As such its narrative and recommendations require serious consideration by any Caribbean politician who genuinely has at heart the need for national and social development.

The publication follows an earlier just as interesting commentary by Robert MacLellan, the Managing Director of MacLellan & Associates, the Caribbean based hospitality consultancy.

He suggests that to have the normally intransigent cruise companies bring greater benefit, Caribbean governments should learn from the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and establish an Organisation of Tourism Economy Countries (OTEC). He argues that the weak negotiating position of individual Caribbean and Central American governments has many similarities to OPEC member states sixty years ago and that a ‘rebalancing’ strategy should now be pursued by the Caribbean when it comes to the cruise lines. In this way, he suggests, not only could the issue of head taxes be addressed but other issues of benefit to the region might be considered.

Recent conferences on tourism held in Jamaica and Washington demonstrate that there is a growing appetite and anger among Caribbean participants who believe that what is required is a more equitable basis on which cruise ships operate in the region.

As they, Martha Honey and Robert MacLellan suggest, the time has come to ask difficult questions about the value of cruise tourism.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

8 September 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

When in the early 1990s it became apparent that Europe’s preferential regimes for Caribbean bananas and sugar were coming to an end, an impassioned debate began about a transition to other forms of economic activity.

For the most part the focus was on alternative crops, import substitution, manufacturing, and financial services. Little was said at the time about tourism because its sustainability was widely regarded as uncertain.

Since then, the world has moved on. Tourism has come to dominate most Caribbean economies.

In contrast, agriculture has been slow to reorient itself, hardly scratched the surface of tourism’s burgeoning demand for high quality food, fish and processed foodstuffs, and has failed to reorient and integrate its production with the hugely valuable visitor market that is often adjacent to viable agricultural land.

Some in agriculture have moved on and identified niche domestic or export markets, and in the case of the Dominican Republic and to a lesser extent Cuba and Jamaica have begun to encourage linkages with tourism. Despite this, most Caribbean farmers remain caught in the past. The result is an aging industry, with little new thinking about how agriculture might adapt or be incentivised to integrate with the high value demand that tourism creates.

For this reason, a just published Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) ‘Study on the State of Agriculture in the Caribbean’ is breath of fresh air as it outlines how, with a significantly changed approach, the sector could generally become of much greater economic and social relevance, and more specifically might adapt to supply the tourism sector.

As well as identifying the steps required to resuscitate the industry and reduce the region’s huge food import bill, it in part focuses on how the influx of foreign tourists since the 1980s has increased the local demand for food, and for specific food products. It notes that despite this in most of CDB’s borrowing members countries (CARICOM and the UK Overseas Territories) the oppo rtunity this offered for local farmers to expand and diversify their production was not met. Instead imports of food products increased.

The report quotes the example of Negril where notwithstanding the demand for locally produced foodstuffs, at times agricultural producers have been unable to supply product in a consistent manner as a result of the absence of cold storage facilities and inefficient irrigation systems; problems that were exacerbated by weak organisation, and  poor communication between producers and hotel representatives. It notes too that in some parts of the region 32 per cent or less of the food demand arising from the tourism is being met locally.

CDB’s report also suggests that when it comes to tourism there is substantial room for the creation of new linkages between local agricultural production and tourism but that there is an information asymmetry regarding the standards required by hotel and restaurant chains, cruise ships, and the yachting sector.

CDB make clear that while the principal challenge facing agriculture in the region is improving competitiveness and productivity, to adequately respond to tourism’s rapidly growing demand for high-standard, agri-food products it will also need to advance its ability to comply with modern food safety and quality standards.

Despite this, the report, which addresses fisheries and aquaculture as well, says the sector, as a whole, has great potential for the creation of stronger market linkages with tourism if support is provided to farmers, fisherfolk and agri-food businesses to adopt current international best practice and technologies.

CDB’s intention now is to develop a new agricultural policy and strategy paper for governments, multilateral institutions and aid donors, with the intention of modernising Caribbean agricultural practice, identifying key trends and the innovative practices and the science necessary to support an integrated approach.

If the Caribbean’s agri-food system is to become more competitive, inclusive and sustainable, it has long been self-evident that agriculture requires a new approach, new policies and investment. In particular, to survive as a sector, it needs to overcome its inefficiencies, adopt best practice and integrate with tourism and local manufacturing in parallel to identifying niche export market opportunities.

What makes CDB’s report particularly important is that it is forward looking, outlines solutions and opportunities and gives hope to all who believe in the centrality of agriculture to Caribbean life and who want visitors to experience in an holistic way, al that the region has to offer.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

10 July 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

There are indications that the Caribbean may again see this year unusually large amounts of Sargassum seaweed washed up on its shores.

In recent days, large quantities have begun to arrive on Mexico’s south eastern Caribbean coast, with forecasters suggesting that as the year goes on large quantities may also begin to arrive across the rest of the region.

For those who do not know, Sargassum is a type of abundant seaweed creating ocean rafts that can stretch for miles. Although ecologically important and a floating habitat for multiple forms of marine life, when carried onshore by prevailing tides and winds, it can build up on once pristine tourist beaches in the form of a rotting mass of foul-smelling vegetation.

In the past it was largely believed to originate in the Sargasso Sea in the eastern Atlantic, but more recently scientists believe that it has started to arrive in the Caribbean from the equatorial waters between Brazil and West Africa where rising sea temperatures as a result of climate change, and pesticide and fertiliser runoff from the Amazon and Congo, is causing it to proliferate.

So serious has the problem become that a recent MIT Technology Review suggested that the cumulative effect is beginning to disrupt the equilibrium of coastal ecosystems and by killing off the seagrasses that help keep sand in place, is causing beaches to erode more rapidly. 

Although Sargassum has been arriving in the Caribbean for many years its height and volume has now become so great that voluntary efforts to clean beaches are proving ineffective, with potentially longer term negative economic consequences for tourism.

Tourism Ministers and industry representatives indicate they have become increasingly concerned about the seaweed’s unsightly appearance, visitor complaints, the cost of mechanical removal, and the possibility of reputational damage. There is also some anecdotal evidence of investors questioning the long-term cost implications in relation to projects they are engaged in.

To try to address the issue the University of the West Indies and a number of other regional and international bodies have been exploring possible solutions including whether there are nutritional uses for the seaweed if processed, issues related to the ecological damage to beaches, and what if any technical solutions there may be keep the seaweed offshore. 

One alternative but costly solution being considered by several countries in the region is the installation of barriers. These, it is suggested, might keep the seaweed from reaching the shore in a manner that will result in the ocean currents then carrying the Sargassum back out to sea.

In addition, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) announced earlier this year that it had begun a fact-finding study to document Sargassum influxes since 2011, and why in some years, such as 2018, it reached unprecedented levels with an estimated clean-up cost of US$120m. The survey, funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency, is expected, when complete, to suggest actions for the regions fisheries and tourism industry and the scope of support that Japan may provide to help address the problem.

Despite this, experts suggest that the Sargassum problem is not going to go away in the near future, suggesting that a regional response will be required if the problem is to be effectively dealt with both at a technical level and in relation to visitor perception.

Unfortunately, too many potential visitors still view the Caribbean from afar as one place. This suggests that if the problem of sargassum occurs again this year in the same way as it did in 2018, it will require much clearer sustained messaging by the industry and governments, indicating that such inundations are sporadic, do not affect all beaches, and there is much more to do on a Caribbean vacation than go to the beach.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

22 May 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Try to discover the number of Caribbean citizens working in higher management roles in hospitality in the region or discover how many among them are women, and you will likely be frustrated.

It is possible that someone, somewhere has managed to discover the numbers, or research why so few Caribbean people rise to the highest levels of hotel management, but if it does exist and could be shared it would be welcome among those who believe in the transformational nature of the industry.

This is not to suggest that employment should be on anything other than merit, but to question why an industry that is now relatively mature should have, or so it appears, so many expatriates still working in management positions, particularly in the increasingly ubiquitous international chain hotels that now dominate room numbers in the region.

To be clear this is not to argue against the presence of talented expatriates, but to indicate that if the Caribbean and employers truly wants to benefit fully from the region’s premier industry, they need to do much more in a well-considered way to train, encourage and promote an able, experienced cadre of Caribbean professionals capable of managing the industry.

As with so much else in the Caribbean this needs the closer engagement of educational institutions at all levels and the willingness of teachers to understand the industry and inspire. However, it also requires all international hotel chains to provide training across their global portfolio, greater awareness by the international development agencies that fund training, and of course those already in the industry to know that a pathway to the top genuinely exists.

What is striking is that unlike tourism – there are some notable exceptions – almost all other large private or shareholder owned enterprises in the region now have able Caribbean men and significantly less women running them. Unlike their predecessors, this generation of Caribbean senior executives usually have higher degrees in management, have worked overseas and represent a significant part of the future capacity of the region to achieve positive corporate and national outcomes.

For this reason, it was heartening to see the University of the West Indies hold a ground-breaking ceremony for a new facility on its Western Campus in Montego Bay which, the Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Mona campus, Professor Dale Webber, says will offer studies in tourism within a world-class school of management among other disciplines.

Hopefully this will mean that when it comes to tourism that the UWI will not only amalgamate all tourism studies there but as Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, has suggested, give serious thought to the regional role a faculty of tourism might play in delivering a greater number of tourism professionals able eventually to manage and provide all of the skills the industry needs.

In his remarks at the ground-breaking, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister noted that there was much more to do when it comes to developing the region’s expertise in tourism.

Speaking specifically about the challenge of developing individuals’ ability to take advantage of the emerging opportunities that exist, he made clear that at present many of the opportunities the industry offers those from the region require low skill levels and offer limited prospects for economic mobility.

This he suggested needed to change as the industry, the nature of the services it provides, and visitor demand is no longer as it was in the past. The global tourism market, he said “is becoming increasingly differentiated and segmented, and its continued growth in the region will depend on having the right people with the right skills”.

What is evident in the industry in the region and internationally is that a very different group of skills are now required to respond to changing lifestyles and consumer demand, not least in relation to the use of artificial intelligence in hotel management and a data-driven approach to marketing. Likewise, there is a pressing need for wider competencies in foreign languages and the creation of a research capacity able to analyse trends and to predict future patterns and trends in tourism.

Recently the World Travel and Tourism Council pointed out that human capital shortages in the hospitality sector are growing globally. This suggests that this is just the moment when the industry, including the international hotel chains, and the Caribbean’s universities and training academies should be focussing on helping develop the future skills that will enable individuals in the region to be able to progress to the highest positions.

If the Caribbean is to benefit fully from its hospitality industry and product it needs to do much more to ensure its citizens are equipped with modern managerial skills so that many more of tourism’s top jobs are occupied by the men and women of the region.


David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

3 April 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Beyond politics I am not sure the last time I read a Caribbean manifesto.

Today the widely held view is that there is no longer a place for detailed well-argued declaration that sets out the intentions or requirements of the socially marginalised or an industry. The sense is that social media has occupied the space of protest and demand reducing ideas to a few words that seek an emotional response.

This is wrong, especially when it comes to making the case for tourism. Today the Caribbean is dominated by services and specifically the hospitality industry. It requires all policy makers within the region and beyond to be able to understand the industry, its needs and what it requires if it is to grow and be developmental.

Recent exchanges of views with senior industry executives make clear that for multiple reasons the industry’s voice is not being heard either in the region or externally among those involved in Caribbean development.

Their comments suggest that this is the moment for those in tourism who care about the industry’s future to be disruptive, to step into the sectoral policy vacuum that has existed since the big commodity-led battles over trade and development, market access, and transition out of preference were fought and largely won.

Regrettably, in many parts of the region one would scarcely know that tourism exists when it comes to political decision making other than in relation to taxation. Instead, the voice of the Caribbean owned and run part of industry’s seems to matter less that the interests of the international chain hotels when governments take decisions.

To change this, a better understanding is needed among Caribbean politicians, academics, the media, development agencies, and international financial institutions, of tourism as an economic driver, its structure and its requirements.

One way to achieve could be to create a short manifesto by convening of a working group with open minded academics at the University of the West Indies (UWI) to draft an accessible document setting out in a straightforward manner the challenges and needs of the industry.

For such a document to move policy it should be able to attract media attention, be promoted in a sustained manner, and seek the formal endorsement of others including tourism ministers and member nations of regional institutions that determine Caribbean development policy. It should also be actively promoted at multilateral institutions including the European Commission, the IADB, the IMF and the World Bank,  and with governments able to influence regional political thinking.

Those who belive such an approach would have no value should consider recent events in Europe where a simple 44-point Tourism Manifesto for Growth and Jobs signed by 45 industry stakeholders has been produced:

This document makes clear the urgent need for a genuine recognition by the European Union of the importance of tourism. It stresses that a holistic European approach is needed to formulate effective tourism policies taking into account the multiple impacts of the sector as well as the wide spectrum of stakeholders involved in or affected by tourism. It endorses a proposal of the European Parliament to allocate €300m (US$341m) for sustainable tourism as a part of Europe’s 2021- 2027 Multiannual Financial Framework and seeks an integrated European tourism policy.

It already has the support of the European’s Parliament’s President, Antonio Tajani, and there are indications that the policy framework it provides could in time become integrated into all EU thinking and central to a better understanding of an industry that forms a vital part of the European economy.

Any such Caribbean tourism manifesto should be equally short and be a wakeup call, couched in direct language. It should make in a regional context many of the same points the European manifesto makes about the industry’s contribution to growth, employment, foreign exchange earnings, and taxation. It ought also to set out tourism’s requirements in relation to competitiveness, the impact of disruptive technologies, digitisation and artificial intelligence, and indicate to governments clearly what is required in relation to good governance, promotional activity, training, transport, education, and sustainability.

Ideally – which is why the UWI should be engaged in the process – such manifesto statements need to be supported by a separate readable analysis substantiating and demonstrating the role the industry plays in creating regional economic stability and growth.

A manifesto for Caribbean tourism should be unifying and able to demonstrate the challenges the industry faces, regionally and internationally if it is to continue to prosper. Its counterparts in Europe have shown the way. The industry in the Caribbean should now consider doing the same.


David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at  

Previous columns can be found at

20 March 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Some years ago, I stayed in a globally branded hotel on Jamaica’s north coast. It claimed to have free Wi-Fi in every room and in its public areas. While this may have been true, the boast said nothing about the bandwidth or the property’s ability to deal with the level of demand at peak occupancy.

The problem was that I and many others were there for a major industry conference as were hundreds of vacationing families. It meant that connectivity was virtually non-existent other than between 1am and 5am, causing me to take a taxi to a nearby property late at night to beg their help so that I could meet a deadline.

It is something I have never forgotten and ever since I have avoided staying at the hotel in question even if offered as conference accommodation. Subsequently I decided to avoid the chain completely as in some of its city centre properties in North America the cost of one day’s wi-fi access was absurd.

I mention this as almost all travellers whether on vacation or on business now expect free high-speed broadband, seamless connectivity, carry at least two devices, and are of the opinion that any hotel that cannot provide a stable service at peak times should think twice about whether they have any future in the hospitality industry.

There are of course some wonderful exceptions in Jamaica and elsewhere in the region. These are the hotels where guests specifically go to escape being connected, but for the most part visitors want to feel able to communicate at will with friends and family and know what is going on in the wider world.

Connectivity relates directly to competitiveness as Cuba has just recognised. In recent months both the country’s President and Tourism Minister have said that as a matter of government priority the digital transformation of tourism is essential and that its state directed industry will address the poor quality or absence of wi-fi in most Cuban hotel rooms and in many public areas.

The reality is that both digital technology for hotels, and customers’ requirements are changing rapidly, with the number of millennial travellers, the most connected generation ever, expected to make up around 50 per cent of all guests by 2020.

Recently, telecoms industry studies have shown that hotels globally will have little option other than to respond, whether to improve in-house efficiency or to meet guest demand.

At its most obvious the requirement expected of every property will be to constantly upgrade bandwidth. The trend is for travellers to arrive with ever more devices which they wish to connect so that their ability to stream movies and play games is uninterrupted, creating a never-ending battle that all hotels will be expected to respond to.

Experts also suggest that guests increasingly will prefer to have their room key on their mobile device and will want the option to check in using self-service automation. While this may not be for everyone, the suggestion is that hotels should develop in-property apps for every guest as these offer huge efficiencies and better guest service. Such apps on a mobile device would be able to offer, for example, ordering room service and beverages from anywhere on a property, requests to make up rooms, advice from housekeeping on when laundry is ready for delivery, a direct link to concierge services, and simplify checking out.

It is also suggested that hotels offer tech enabled meeting spaces and ballrooms. Just as importantly as enabling business meetings using the latest videoconferencing facilities, connectivity will enable service enhancements with clients determining when they can accept an interruption to their meeting by catering staff. More interestingly perhaps, companies such as the Canadian telecoms company Mitel speak about the growing demand for advanced technology in ballrooms and event spaces so that those not able to be present can join remotely occasions like wedding celebrations.

What it and other companies like them make clear is that the tech revolution is central to future destination and hotel competitiveness and guest satisfaction, and unlike before, offers visitors real time opportunities to criticise or praise to a wide audience what is good, bad or indifferent about their experience.

Travellers from the Caribbean’s major markets of North America and Europe are used to free Wi-Fi everywhere from their coffee shop to public transport and in the private and public spaces they use. They expect to be connected for nothing and as far as possible for the service offered to be seamless. To remain globally competitive Caribbean hotels and destinations need to invest now in the sophisticated free connectivity that most visitors are coming to take for granted.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

13 February 2019

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Speaking last June in New York, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, could not have been clearer. Tourism, he said, as presently structured in the Caribbean, needs to change if it is to deliver greater economic value, increase growth and better support those who work in the industry.

It was without question the most significant message of 2018 about an industry that can bring untold benefit, but so far has not spread its rewards widely enough to all of those from Cuba to Guyana who make real the visitor experience and the uniqueness of a destination.

The Minister was making a point that many in the industry have missed, which is that if nations are to extract the maximum sustainable value from tourism, they need to think in new ways about its future development, spread its benefits more widely, its offering, and changing nature of global market demand especially among millennials.

It was a message that was long overdue in an industry that tends to sit back in times of plenty and reap the rewards. It indicated that, at least in Jamaica, there is an awareness that the structural changes taking place globally in tourism mean that to have a future, the industry must bring long term social and economic value to the region and those who work in it and offer a quality product.

It was a message that not only set apart Jamaica’s thinking on tourism from that of the rest of the region, but also found a practical expression in a decision to create, with international support, an institution housed at the UWI’s Mona Campus which aims to become the world’s leading institution for research, advocacy, training and policy development.

In a cynical world it is easy to regard this as political posturing, but what it demonstrated in a practical way is that there is no point in the Caribbean continuing to say that it is ‘the most tourism dependent region in the world’ unless it can develop facts based evidence about how this is a weakness and how, for example, it requires support in relation to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

A further reflection of this came in the dawning recognition among international financial institutions that what drives tourism and its broader economic inputs is not being captured by a region that simply counts arrival numbers and estimates visitor spending.

The second important message of 2018 was contained in the revelation that the IMF at a staff level had begun to work with big commercial accumulators of data such as TripAdvisor to develop information that would help them analyse and forecast the broader economic impact of tourism and its relationship to the wider Caribbean economy.

This decision highlighted a third important message from 2018. That was that artificial intelligence (AI) will revolutionise almost every aspect to of the way the industry relates to those it is trying to attract to destinations and properties. What became apparent in the year just gone, was that the industry is on the cusp of a revolution that most in the region are ill prepared for. Thy use of AI’s advanced algorithms to combine information from big data accumulators from supermarkets to airlines has begun to produce information on potential travellers that will enable personally directed marketing from the point at which it can reliably be anticipated a vacation is first being considered.

At the less positive end of the spectrum 2018 indicated that existing inter-regional mechanisms that relate to tourism are failing. Despite CARICOM heads of government having agreed in 2017 that tourism is central to the future of the Caribbean economy, there were few signs of regional tourism friendly policies emerging or a response to the industry’s concerns. The only bright light was the election in May of a new Prime Minister in Barbados, Mia Motley, and her recognition of the need to work to ease inter-regional travel for CARICOM citizens and visitors.

To complicate matters further, there were signs in 2018 that the underfunded government and private sector bodies that represent the industry had begun to fragment. While the CHTA and individual associations like ASONAHORES in the Dominican Republic still provide wise advice, the emergence of separate bodies representing, for example, Spanish hotels or international chain hotels, indicated that achieving unity on what matters regionally on tourism will become more difficult.

2018 was also the year that saw tourism weaponised by a US administration which reversed the Obama era polices of encouraging US stay-over travel to Cuba, to the benefit of US cruise lines; a worrying trend in often underreported crimes against visitors in some Caribbean nations; continuing problems with over-priced and over-taxed inter-island air services; the emergence globally of potentially powerful movement concerned about the impact that ‘over-tourism’ is having on popular locations; more positively, most 2017 hurricane-ravaged islands reopening to visitors; and numbers increasing from new source markets, most notably China, Russia and Brazil.

All of which indicates just how much needs to be achieved in 2019 and beyond, if Caribbean tourism is to deliver sustainable growth of benefit to all.

Please click here to read previous Business of Tourism columns.

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Jamaica is rapidly emerging as the leading regional centre for new thinking about tourism.

In the last few weeks it has become clear that its proposed Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre now has enough international and domestic support to enable it to develop a prospectus to take to international donors.

This is welcome as an international centre of this kind, located in the Caribbean, will do much to help the region better understand what is required to ensure the long-term sustainability of the industry that now dominates most regional economies.

In outline, the centre, which might benefit from having a more user-friendly name, is to be housed at the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus. The intention is that it will become the world’s leading institution for research, advocacy, training and policy development on issues related to sustainability in tourism.

Initially it will focus on delivering a ‘barometer’ that will identify the preparedness, management capacity and ability of every tourism destination globally to recover from crises from hurricanes and monsoons to terrorism.

In the longer term, however, the centre is expected to do much more.

According to a document produced earlier this year, the intention is that it will provide a wide range of advice as new issues arise in the complex value chains that enable the industry to prosper.

The idea is that the centre will develop multiple activities and outputs: a monitoring and evaluation unit able to identify problems that have the potential to change or damage the industry; publicly available and interrogatable statistics, studies and reports; a think tank; and an international role in developing awareness of the economic importance of the industry’s sustainability. To help achieve this, its initial sponsors have agreed to fund a Chair on innovation and resilience at UWI, who will be tasked with overseeing the operational, organisational, and institutional direction of the Centre.

It is envisaged that as the institution’s activities and output develop, it will also provide tourism related inputs for implementing some or all the UN’s seventeen sustainable development goals (the SDGs) agreed in 2015, especially those relating to employment, economic growth, responsible consumption and production, climate action and gender equality.

In the last two weeks the centre took an important step forward. Several leading industry figures and international groups influential in developing global policy towards tourism met in London in the margins of World Travel Market. There they agreed to establish a Board and to how the new body should move forward over the next three months.

Those involved in the discussions were according to Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism, the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the Mediterranean Tourism Foundation, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, the Jamaica National Group; the University of the West Indies; the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage; the Travel Corporation; the Japan National Tourism Organization; as well as others including the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the World Travel & Tourism Council, and the US Department of Commerce. The names of other supporting bodies and governments are expected to emerge soon.

According to Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, this now paves the way for the official launch which will take place when the country hosts CHTA’s annual Caribbean Travel Marketplace at the end of January 2019 in Montego Bay.

Although not specifically Caribbean related, the centre and its establishment come at an important moment for the region. The tourism sector in the Caribbean is increasingly mature and as an industry should be thinking less about visitor numbers and more about delivering lasting nation-wide social and economic growth. It should also be spending more time undertaking a detailed analysis of Caribbean tourism’s long-term viability and encouraging new thinking, all issues the new institution will be able to help the region address.

Although some in the industry remain sceptical about the value of the centre, once established it will likely put Jamaica, the Caribbean and the UWI on the global map as the leading centre for new thinking, research and information dissemination about the issues and requirements of an industry that is still not widely understood by policymakers.


Please click here to read previous Business of Tourism columns.

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

Until very recently the suggestion that artificial intelligence (AI) could be applied to tourism was likely to be seen by most in the industry as something close to science fiction. However, the extraordinary technological advances that have taken place over the last decade mean that very soon it will become a pervasive commercial tool with benefits and dangers that tourism professionals will need to understand.

Speaking about this recently, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, said that digital technology would change the way in which the region addresses tourism. It would enable, he said, the industry to better understand visitors’ needs and the industry’s requirements, while enhancing its competitiveness and providing a seamless visitor experience. It was, he said, his intention that Jamaica should become a leading player in adapting to and creating digital solutions of the kind that have begun to transform the industry globally.

The application of AI to Caribbean tourism is likely to be far-reaching and to present challenges to the often conservative, bottom-line-oriented industry in the Caribbean.

At its most obvious AI offers multiple commercial benefits.

Firstly, it makes possible the accumulation of big data and the integration of databases and analytics with globally used platforms such as Google, allowing hotel, airlines and other providers to create a sales and booking experience that anticipates a client’s interests and offers bespoke travel solutions.  It is a function that is likely to accelerate as AI evolves and adopts conversational voice formats that result in visitors or agents being able to ‘discuss’ on line, preferences and options.

Secondly, AI will enable real time interventions, for example rebooking if a flight is delayed and could allow a hotel, restaurant or tourist board to advise in-market via a client’s cell phone options based on their location and preferences.

Thirdly, by harnessing data from valuable market segments such as millennials, AI can then, through social media, offer in a targeted and subtle way options for personalised travel and experiences that relate to an individual’s lifestyle.

All of which suggests that the industry in the region will likely benefit directly in the short-term though data accumulation and the purchase of related domestic and external AI services.

However, beyond this there are many newer forms of AI that tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, financial services companies, hotel chains, and internet platforms are all now racing to control and integrate. This rapidly accelerating process suggests that in the longer term the ultimate commercial benefits will principally go the largest and wealthiest international players able to develop and own integrated AI platforms.

For this reason, it may be far more important for the Caribbean to develop a long-term focus on those aspects of AI that are inward facing: that is those that support in-destination efficiencies, inter-sectoral linkages, training, education, and a better understanding of the impact of taxation, so that the domestic industry, governments and citizens can truly benefit from AI.

Local AI use could for example see linkages enabling farmers and fisherfolk to understand demand on a daily basis; personal tailored daily offerings being made to travellers on their cell phones; data led understanding by legislators of the ‘sharing economy’ and cruise visitor spend; and a nationally utilisable mobile money system for visitors.

Some of these ideas are already being explored, but a much better understanding of the wider implications for the Caribbean is required.

For example, forms of AI used for personal profiling are already contentious globally. In a people-oriented industry like tourism, its unmediated and unregulated use raises issues that range from privacy to the legality of data ownership and possession. Externally deployed big data also requires answers as to how information can be controlled and directed nationally to deliver Caribbean development and the retention of revenue.

All of which is to say nothing about the need, if full advantage is to be taken of the possibilities of AI, for country wide 4G cellular networks or better, reliable high-speed broadband, and recognition of the region’s woefully poor cybersecurity preparedness.

There is no doubt AI can bring new benefits for Caribbean tourism, but prudence suggests there is also the need for careful analysis of its longer-term risks. It is a role that Jamaica’s newly established Global Centre for Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management should involve itself in.


David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

17th October, 2018

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

It may sound like science fiction, but the day of the electric powered plane is coming, and sooner than one might expect.

Although commercial electric powered flight is still a decade away, the basic power source, the lithium ion battery, can already enable a modified light aircraft to fly up to about 250 miles. Aviation industry experts suggest that as battery technology advances, range and power will increase, enabling one hundred seat planes to cover distances of between 400 to 600 miles before having to recharge.

This and the rapid advance of the electric vehicle (EV) have a real relevance to tourism. This is especially the case in small environmentally-sensitive destinations such as the Caribbean which, to compete in future, will not only have to find new ways to add value to their brand, but new ways to appeal to more eco-aware generations of travellers.

All-electric vehicles are already coming into use for tourism and transport in parts of the Caribbean.

Cayman Automotive sells EVs in Cayman and to Cuba where they are used on Cayo Largo, a tourist island to the south of Havana that intends to gradually become a fully eco-friendly tourist destination. So great is the potential opportunity in Cuba, that the company is reported to be thinking about opening an office soon in Havana that will also sell electric bikes and scooters.

In Barbados too, the use of EVs is growing. A young dynamic company, Megapower Ltd, is selling and operating EVs. The company imports the all-electric Nissan LEAF, builds and manages solar carports, and is working hard to establish a network of electric vehicle charging stations strategically located across the island.

Like Cayman Automotive, the company’s owners believe that the Caribbean may be the best place in the world for the mass adoption of EVs as many nations are small in size, have relatively flat terrain, an abundance of solar energy, and every reason to reduce their reliance on imported petroleum products.

Despite this, major obstacles remain. The biggest are the very high import duties on EVs and related equipment, and many governments’ reluctance to show the leadership or vision that would enable tourism dependent nations such as those in the Eastern Caribbean to use them to capture international media attention and visitor imagination.

Although some countries like Cuba and Trinidad are actively encouraging the import of EVs though low import duties, the issue may be one for CARICOM’s tourism ministers to take up collectively at a regional level.

In contrast, electric powered flight is some way off, but is potentially just as relevant to tourism, especially Caribbean inter-island and domestic flights.

Possible for some time and the subject of major development programmes by both large and small companies in the aviation sector and NASA, electric powered light aircraft have been flying since 2011. Then a two-seater plane built by engineers at the University of Stuttgart climbed to about 20,000 feet in in two minutes, flew nonstop for 300 miles reaching speeds of 142 miles per hour.  It burnt no fuel, had zero carbon emissions and the cost of the energy consumed was, the University said, tens of dollars.

It was a clear indication of a concept that is now being scaled up as battery technology improves.

In a clear indication of viability, the Norwegian government recently declared that all domestic aviation will be electrically powered by 2040, with Wideroe, the country’s biggest airline, beginning to replace its Dash 8 aircraft from 2025 on, eventually making a full transition to electric aviation. In addition, the country’s airports operator Avinor has been working on its infrastructure electrification plans for the past three years.

The commercial opportunities of electric powered flight still have to play out. However, there is every reason why the Caribbean should be considering the use of electric vehicles now, starting with their use for tourism and bus services, not least because fuel for transport is the single largest part of much of the regions import bill.

What is required is a Caribbean revolution in transport. The tourism sector, with government support, could begin to show the way.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

3rd October, 2018

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

A few weeks ago, this column made the point that the time has come for tourism in the Caribbean to be managed in such a way that it is less about numbers and more about delivering lasting nation-wide social and economic growth.

It suggested, in part, that to achieve sustainability the industry needs to pay greater attention to ensuring that the small and medium-size businesses and the individuals who make up 80% of the industry in the region – those who for want of a better description provide the software – benefit more.

Put another way, if the industry is to progress in Jamaica or elsewhere in the region it must do more to ensure that the average worker in tourism has a real and lasting stake. In part, achieving this requires that those who undertake the many visible and near invisible basic tasks that directly or indirectly ensure a visitor feels welcome, are better looked after and encouraged to develop fully their potential.

This means reorienting the industry in ways that ensure genuine human resource development. It requires, for example, many more Caribbean hotel workers to graduate to management or more senior positions; governments and international agencies to find the funding to facilitate training in every area; and the long-term provision of social security for all in the industry.

More generally, it suggests that those who tourism has traditionally employed on a seasonal or quasi-casual basis, but now require year-round, see a lifetime benefit in working in an industry that increasingly defines the economic future of much of the region.

The best hotels in the region already have worker-oriented schemes of their own, but across the region governments, unions and employers would do well to consider the wider national economic and developmental benefits of more highly valuing those who work in the industry.

In this regard recent decisions by the Jamaican government are to be commended. These ensure that all workers in its industry not only have opportunities to progress through a human capital development plan that will provide certification to international standards, but at the end of their working lives will receive a pension.

In this latter respect by introducing a tourism workers’ pension scheme, Jamaica is demonstrating in a tangible way a long-term social commitment to those who work in an industry that some in the region and beyond still have little regard for.

Recent conversations in Kingston with officials responsible for developing the new scheme indicate that this involves placing initially J$1bn (US$7.7m) in seed money from the country’s Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) into a Tourism Workers’ Pension Scheme. This will, on a contributory basis, then provide a pension to all workers presently aged between 18-59 who work in the tourism sector, whether permanent, contracted or self-employed who work not just in hotels but in other areas including as airport porters, craft vendors, contracted drivers of ground transport, or at attractions.

The scheme will pay a pension at age 65 years or older to almost all the industry’s 117,000 workers (8.8% of Jamaica’s workforce) and involves a contribution by employers of 3% of salary and a similar contribution by employees. The sums collected will be invested in an externally operated fund that will be regulated and overseen by the country’s Financial Services Commission. As such it forms one of a suite of measures aimed at developing human capacity and improving social conditions in areas such as worker’s housing in resort areas.

As with the introduction of all social security schemes, workers and employers will need to be convinced that they will reap the benefits.

However, the more significant point is that politicians of all political persuasions along with more thoughtful industry professionals now recognise that if the region and its people are to benefit from tourism, the future emphasis must be on securing control by harnessing its development value, in part through improving the lives of those who work in the industry.

It is an approach that recognises that small nations need to develop tourism in ways that better retain and leverage the long-term value of their own people.


David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

25 July 2018


The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.

As the reach and range of taxation has expanded, hoteliers in particular have become uneasy about the impact that increasing levels of taxation may have on their competitiveness and that of the country they are located in.

Most accept that government’s ability to raise revenue is important, not just to ensure that tourism infrastructure, destination marketing and incentives are in place, but to provide the education, social services and all else that a state is expected to provide. The consequence is that although hoteliers regularly complain, and investors seek the longest possible tax holidays, for the most part the industry begrudgingly accepts that they and their guests must contribute to the national economy.

However, there are signs of a debate emerging in some parts of the region and externally as to whether a point is being reached where the widening mix of visible and invisible taxes a visitor must pay, may be starting to make some Caribbean destinations and stay-over tourism of questionable value for money.

Up to now, governments in the region have taken the view that there is little down-side to taxing foreigners seeking a dream vacation. The view is that the high end of the market is not affected by new taxes and levies, while vacations at mid-level price points are not be much influenced because the Caribbean remains a desirable destination.

However, in recent weeks the issue has become more widely discussed because of a range of tourism related taxes introduced by Barbados new government to help address the parlous economic situation it has inherited.

The measures introduced, in what is already a high cost destination, have created uncertainty among hoteliers, tour operators and the international media as to whether they will deter or displace visitors to elsewhere in the region.

From October 1 there will be a per person US$70 Airline Travel and Tourism Development fee for departures to extra-regional destinations and a US$35 fee for travel within the Caribbean. In addition, there is a new hotel room tax of US$2.50 per night for B Class properties and apartments, a US$5.50 per night charge for A Class properties and US$10 nightly tax for stays at luxury resorts. A ten per cent tax has been introduced on shared accommodation such as Airbnb, and other taxes, including a product development levy on direct tourism services, are likely to hit tourists indirectly.

Because these are in addition to existing airport and other charges, this means the cumulative impact on a family of four, when sales and other taxes and the charges levied by airlines and source destinations are included, threatens to add significantly to the basic cost of a Barbados vacation.

Already, Ernst & Young, the management accountants have cautioned that the new tourism taxes could reduce Barbados’ competitiveness as a tourist destination, dampening travel as price sensitive tourists select cheaper destinations.

Travel Weekly, the trade publication, has described new room tax as a “a sure-fire way to annoy customers”.  Its Editor, Lucy Huxley, commenting recently that ‘rushing through taxes that hit customers who have the choice to vote with their feet in the future could well end up not delivering the results it is hoping for’.

Others have pointed out that the burden falls only on land-based tourism, so far leaving the notoriously awkward cruise ship companies untouched and their passengers paying a head tax of just US$6.

What Barbados’ economic misfortune and its new visitor taxes suggest is the need for a broader debate about the impact of tourism taxes on pricing and the point at which revenue raising measures become counterproductive.

The danger is that in Barbados and elsewhere in the region, a moment may come when rising levels of tourism taxes mean that middle-market visitors stay for shorter periods, turn to cruising, seek alternative warm water destinations offering better service, cuisine, comfort, and value for money, or worse: they simply say that the Caribbean has become too expensive.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

11th July 2018


The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.


As a young journalist I had the good fortune to travel the region. Then the experience was seamless, easy, relatively low cost and efficient. Now, multiple decades on, Governments and security requirements have made it less than pleasant, and particularly mind numbing, expensive and illogical if it involves multiple transits through OECS nations. Maddeningly, travelling for example between the BVI and Trinidad can now take longer and cost more than a flying to New York.

Two recent statements on the issue of inter-island transport are therefore welcome, if they genuinely mean that an effort is to be made in the OECS to improve and lower the cost of regional connectivity.

In a recent interview in the Antigua Observer, the CEO of LIAT, Julie Reifer-Jones, expressed the view that the in-transit taxes charged by all governments have become “counterproductive”. She said that while she understood the need to sustain airports, the resulting high cost of airfares had become a more pressing issue.

“What we observe is that the airports in the region are generally using travel as a way of generating revenue to sustain the airport, but it is at the point now where it is counterproductive, because the proportion of the ticket that is taxes is way too high to stimulate travel in the region,” she said.

To begin to address the issue she proposed that governments remove transit taxes: the multiple levies imposed on travellers en route to another destination by each nation a plane lands at.

These, Mrs Reifer-Jones observed, accumulate as LIAT’s passengers move throughout the region because so many fly more than one sector, routing through Barbados, St Vincent or Antigua if they are connecting elsewhere in the region.

Noting that the issue was not an easy one for governments, she suggested that some territories were now willing to “commit” to an adjustment in the taxes, and that “a more robust discussion” than ever before was now underway, involving a wider range of nations.

More recently, Barbados’s new Prime Minister, Mia Mottley, has called for the lifting of restrictions on passengers in-transit by air or sea for more than two hours through the island. She said that she wanted them to be able to clear immigration so that they can at least shop or as she put it, contribute to the economic activity of the country. Ms Mottley also suggested the need to review inter-island transportation in ways that enable new modalities and in particular fast ferries to come into service to bring regional transport into the 21st century.

“I am aware that unless we get to the stage where we can facilitate the movement of not just people, but vehicles and cargo we will not reap the full benefit of the space we have the honour to occupy,” she said.

The sentiments expressed by both are backed up by recent studies produced by the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) and the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and another by CDB and LIAT. The two studies show a decline in regional travel, but a growth in extra-regional travel. Both in part cite as a constraint on inter-regional travel high levels of tax. This they suggest has created an environment that has led to Caribbean travellers preferring to visit often similar destinations outside of the region.

This may all seem like common sense and likely to stimulate economic growth. However, it requires Caribbean Heads of Government and their finance, transport, immigration, home affairs and security ministers and all their officials to overcome their present protectionist, bureaucratic approach.

Although there is widespread acceptance that if inter-regional tourism is to flourish, decisive action is needed to ease the multiple taxes charged and to remove other impediments to travel, inaction prevails.

Consequently, when it comes to the OECS and Barbados altering their approach, I will not be holding my breath. Instead I will be hoping that the multi-destination arrangements that Jamaica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Mexico and others are now trying to finalise, might establish an alternative model that demonstrates progress of benefit to inter-regional travellers and visitors alike is possible.

David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

27th June 2018


The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.


Speaking recently in New York, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, could not have been clearer. Tourism, he said, as presently structured in the Caribbean needs to change if it is to deliver greater economic value, increase growth and better support for those who work in the industry.

Addressing a Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Council of Tourism Ministers meeting, he told colleagues that the region’s thinking must change if it is to capture the benefits of the 4-5 per cent annual growth forecast for tourism globally over the next few years.

To extract the maximum value, he stressed, would require the region to think in new ways about the industry’s future development, its offering, and the changing global market demand especially among millennials.  The Caribbean, he suggested, needed to develop a multi-dimensional collaborative response to ensure sustainability and the retention of value within the region.

“As a region we need to recognise the indispensability of the tourism industry to economic development in the region and act to consolidate and increase shares of the global market,” he said.

Minister Bartlett’s call to rethink the Caribbean tourism model is long overdue. In an industry that tends to sit back in times of plenty and reap the rewards, his remarks suggest that at least Jamaica and a few thoughtful souls elsewhere in the industry recognise that the structural changes taking place globally in tourism raise questions about the long term social and economic value the industry brings.

Tourism is increasingly a price-based commodity, benefitting mainly those who own its ‘hardware’: hotels, the airlines and cruise ships, and the industry’s multifaceted marketing operations that determine its supply. Economic globalisation is leading this part of the industry towards consolidation, resulting in a sector increasingly dominated by a very few powerful brands, and the homogenisation of the product within specific price categories. The consequence is that before long what is on offer in the Caribbean and elsewhere will become hard to differentiate with the owners of the ‘hardware’ offering similar experiences in all warm-water destinations, whether they be in the Maldives, Fiji, Barbados or the Dominican Republic.

This suggests that the unless the Caribbean – the owner, as it were, of the ‘software,’ – can successfully differentiate itself, it will find it increasingly difficult to grow the value, own or retain its share of the global market.

Up to now the response of Governments to capturing value has largely been to stimulate the supply side of the industry and by extension the number of visitor arrivals. This has involved encouraging ever larger foreign investments in up-scale resorts – Baha Mar in the Bahamas is a good example – incentivising new airlift to open new source markets, finding new ways to encourage cruise ships calls, and through the provision of extensive marketing support. It is an approach Governments have been able to justify because it enables them to tax an ever-larger numbers of arriving visitors.

Unfortunately, it is a strategy that has done little to address the pitiably low level of retention of the tourism dollar within the Caribbean economy.

Recent research indicates that of each tourism dollar spent within the region just US$0.15 cents at the low end and US$0.40 cents at the high end remains, meaning that tourism consumption by visitors continues to vastly outpace local production, with host countries failing to absorb and benefit from the domestic demand it could create.

This cannot be right. Tourism in the Caribbean should be harnessed in such a way that it becomes less about numbers and more about delivering lasting nation-wide social and economic growth.  That is to say, be of greater benefit to the small and medium-size businesses and individuals who make up 80% of the industry in the region; result in genuine human resource development; enable many more Caribbean people to graduate to management positions; and be encouraged to promote an authentic national identity in all that it offers to visitors.

Thankfully Minister Bartlett and several of the regions more thoughtful industry professionals now recognise that if the region is unable any longer to control the hardware, the supply side of the industry, its future emphasis must be on securing control the supply side or the software.

It is a form of economic nationalism that recognises that in the face of globalisation, small nations need to retain and find ways of leveraging their identity to the long-term value of their own people.

In practical terms this means the region must now work to determine how to obtain the maximum social benefit from the sector, and capture more of the tourism dollar though much greater economic integration. It suggests that tourism must find ways to ensure that Caribbean’s cultural uniqueness is infused into all that is offered to visitors.


David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

13th June 2018

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.


Over the last few weeks almost every European citizen who has ever used the internet to buy goods and services, or who has ever provided their personal details when seeking information from a website, has been bombarded with requests to allow the supplier concerned to retain and use their data in an agreed manner.

Companies from major airlines such as British Airways and KLM, to law firms, hotels and even companies that may never obviously have been in contact, have been sending emails in various and often confusing formats which seek permission to retain and use whatever personal information they hold on their corporate data bases.

This has happened because on May 25 a European Union law, the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), came into force. The regulation provides advanced levels of protection to citizens in relation to the data that companies hold on individuals. Its aim is to safeguard EU citizens’ personal information.

In outline the GDPR requires all entities whether in Europe or internationally who hold EU citizens’ data to obtain their consent for its processing; collected data to be anonymised to protect privacy; client notification of all data breaches; and the guaranteed safe handling of data transfer across borders. Failure to observe could lead in the most serious cases to fines of between €10m to €20m (US$12m to US$24m) or 2 to 4% of turnover, whichever is greater.

While the GDPR does not restrict companies from using whatever data they hold, it provides EU citizens with legally enforceable rights about how their personal information is handled.

The issue is of growing importance to consumers given recent corporate security breaches, the loss of personal information, and the development of personal profiling for political purposes using accumulated data.

For the hotel sector in the Caribbean, and those that it contracts to sell-up or provide addon products and services, whether based in the region or elsewhere, it means that all concerned become legally responsible for holding and transferring EU citizens data securely.

According to Frank Comito, the Director General and CEO of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), the hospitality industry is particularly vulnerable to data breaches. In a recent statement he pointed out that it has multiple points at which customer data is exchanged, from reservations and payment processing to rewards programmes and guest services. He noted too that the new regulation means that any client who requests their removal from a property’s data base must inform them they are doing so and the time frame which it will happen.

Although the new regulation came into effect on May 25, no Caribbean Hotel at which I have stayed – there are many of them – or any other tourism related entity in the region has contacted me to request my permission to retain or use the information that they quite legitimately hold. In contrast others from the Washington Post to a favourite restaurant in an obscure part of rural Britain have made contact to make ensure they are in legal compliance.

It is far from clear why this should be. Is it because the Caribbean hotel sector believes a data breach is impossible, they feel they have nothing to fear from remotely introduced regulations, they are confident their insurance policies might cover them against any future legal action, or because they believe this is yet one more administrative burden of marginal consequence?

If this is the case they have failed to see that potentially huge fines and legal costs apart, far more damaging will be the negative publicity that ensues and the potential for reputational damage if for whatever reasons they lose or misuse by default a client’s personal information.

Hoteliers and others in a notoriously once freewheeling industry may not like what is in effect a form of extraterritorial legislation, but the use of personal information for marketing and its safe retention are what today’s security conscious traveller requires.
David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at

Previous columns can be found at

30th May 2018

The views and opinions expressed in the Business of Tourism are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Caribbean Council.