This June’s Annual Caribbean Tourism Summit (ACTS) in Washington DC from June 21 to 24 is not only the first such meeting,also represents the new spirit of collaboration between the Caribbean’s public and private sectors.
To convene the meeting, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), representing regional governments, and the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), the umbrella body for the private sector, are combining resources in their new marketing and business development entity, the Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) whose mission is to own, promote, protect, advance and enhance the Caribbean brand, while making a profit.
In previous years, each June, the CTO had organized Caribbean Week in New York activities, billed as a celebration of the sights, sounds, colours, cultural and unique vacation attributes of the Caribbean; while the CHA had hosted the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Conference, formerly known as CHIC, and held in recent years at the Hyatt Regency in Miami.
These separate activities will not happen this year as energies are concentrated on combining conferences and transferring the travel and tourism debate from the shores of the region to the beltway of the American capital. Following the Summit, key policy makers head to Antigua & Barbuda for another landmark day-long meeting focusing on Tourism during the 29th Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government set for July 3 to 5.
Organizers say this Washington Summit is an opportunity for influential policy makers, financial leaders, marketing professionals, and tourism industry officials from more than 30 Caribbean countries to interact with each other as well as with US Government officials and leaders of tourism and investment communities. In fact, plans are afoot to invite US Presidential candidates Senator John McCain (R) and either of the Democratic Senators Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton depending on who emerges from the primary battle by June.
As delegates look to the economic future of the Caribbean region, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan is confirmed to address the conference on Monday, June 23. While some commentators argue that the authority on American domestic economic and monetary policy might not be a relevant candidate to speak about Caribbean tourism, others believe Dr. Greenspan’s presence will help to sensitise Caribbean policy makers about the important economic impact of the services sector.
Organizers want the “learning conference” to help educate Caribbean stakeholders in general about the critical importance of tourism. Ministers of Finance and Governors of Central Banks, who oversee foreign exchange but have not played a central role in shaping tourism policy, have been invited to be part of the inner circle of players in taking a serious look at the challenges facing the region.
The conference also offers an opportunity for the Caribbean to present compelling arguments to the Bretton Woods institutions and multilateral agencies about the debilitating impact trade liberalization has had on agricultural industries like sugar and bananas, and the need for a hand-up to boost the services sector in which small vulnerable economies have a competitive advantage.
The new requirement which stipulates that Americans use a passport when traveling by air from the Caribbean is also expected to dominate the conference, given its current and potential negative impact on Caribbean air arrivals just when the region must aggressively compete with other destinations (which have long required passports for entry into their ports) for today’s paltry percentage of Americans who will travel internationally.
The other keynote speaker is Bahamian Dr. Myles Munroe, Founder and Senior Pastor of Bahamas Faith Ministries International, who will no doubt set an energetic and inspirational tone.
Dr. Munroe, scheduled to lead an inspirational brunch on Sunday, June 22, was chosen to speak based on his ability to energize a diverse audience as he did at a recent Caribbean Tourism Conference in his native Bahamas. With a reputation for “Transforming Followers into Leaders,” Dr. Munroe will inspire investors, politicians, tourism industry executives, the Caribbean Diaspora and Friends of the Caribbean to meaningfully contribute to the growth and prosperity of the Caribbean region.
“ACTS will be held a time when all investors, political and tourism decision-makers, as well as the powerful Caribbean-American community will be called upon to help the Caribbean get on the path to realizing its full economic potential,” said St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism Senator Allen Chastanet, co-chairman of the CTDC, and chairman of the CTO. “And we’re very excited to have one of our region’s most celebrated motivational and spiritual speakers add his influence to this important effort.”
Also planned for the Summit will be the holding of CTO and CHA’s Board of Directors meetings; a meeting of the new CTO Council of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism; a “Capital Caribbean” Wedding; Town Hall Meetings ostensibly targeting Diaspora communities; interactive conference sessions and a gala dinner at which lifetime achievement and special recognition awards will be presented.
“This conference is a rare opportunity to take a close look at the key issues and solutions that will (stimulate) tourism and investment revenue in the region,” said Peter Odle, co-chairman of the CTDC and President of the CHA.
Held to coincide with June’s Caribbean American Heritage Month, the first Summit marks the dawn of a new day in Caribbean tourism. As delegates gear up for networking opportunities, food, rum and entertainment, and unique Caribbean vacation offers, they should also get ready for change – a change in the way tourism is managed in the Caribbean.