Caribbean tourism is everybody’s business, according to a forward-looking presentation by Caribbean Tourism Organisation Secretary General and Chief Operating Officer Hugh Riley.
Speaking at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, Mr. Riley noted that the opportunities are there for what he terms creative collaboration across all sectors.
‘The World Travel and Tourism Council estimates that in 2009 travel and tourism will have generated 220 million direct and indirect jobs; one in every 13 jobs in the world,’ he said.
In a Caribbean context that means 2.5 million people employed in tourism and its related industries, with US$25 billion per year in foreign exchange. The tourism contribution to the Caribbean’s Gross Domestic Product ranges from 15 per cent to more than 70 per cent amid the 33 countries in the Caribbean Tourism Organisation.
The Caribbean is second only to Europe in terms of visitor penetration density, or arrivals as a percentage of population, he said, with more than 23 million air arrivals over the last year. Statistics from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation estimated that more than 927 million people travelled internationally worldwide last year.
‘When foreign exchange earnings and contribution to the economy are taken into account, the most tourism dependent region of the world is the Caribbean. So for the whole world, tourism is big business; for the Caribbean, there is little doubt that tourism is the business,’ said Mr. Riley.
The past 18 months have been difficult in the light of the global economic situation, which he said had reduced air service, led to declines of arrivals and receipts, included a threat of increased taxation from overseas and eroded the disposable income of potential Caribbean tourists.
On the other hand, it had led to increased collaboration between private and public sector organisations, the creation of stimulus packages and encouraged entrepreneurship.
Improving service quality, renewing new market strategies and deeper analysis of research data had also become important for the countries in the organisation, he said.
‘A cynic might say – and I would agree – that as a region we ought to have been doing some of the above as a matter of course. And I believe we were. The Caribbean, as experienced as we are at the business of tourism, should not only anticipate challenges but be in a position to deal with them effectively,’ noted Mr. Riley.
Tourist profiling on spending and media consumption habits are essential elements in information mining and gathering an understanding of how visitors could be enticed to return, he said.
‘We would all save precious dollars by understanding that it is infinitely more cost-effective to secure more business from current customers, than to incur the increased costs of sourcing new visitors each time,’ he said.
Mr. Riley added that Caribbean tourism is not a one-way street but benefited the region and source markets.
He had harsh words for what he termed the ‘truly odious’ UK air passenger duty, a multi-band departure tax that charges according to how far a passenger flies. It will see some taxes rise by 112 per cent in 2010.
In a survey of 1,700 British visitors to the Caribbean region, he noted that there was a breakpoint of 500 British pounds (CI$659). He said the propensity to travel to the Caribbean fell precipitously even among the 33 per cent of respondents who had previously visited.
He said the tax had gone beyond a tolerance point and would reduce the number of travellers rather than increase revenue to the crown.