A manifesto for Caribbean tourism

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:  https://www.tourismmanifesto.eu/the-manifesto.

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

david.jessop@caribbean-council.org  

Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org

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.

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