The Caribbean Tourism Organisation has called for its member countries to pull together in tackling the effects of the global economic crisis on tourism in the region.
A meeting of tourism ministers took place on Saturday, 9 January in San Juan, Puerto Rico prior to the Caribbean Marketplace trade conference and a proposed memorandum of understanding regarding closer working practices would be signed by CTO members.
Subsequently, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association said that while it supported the proposals, it must be ‘unity for action’ in order to be worthwhile.
It had been present during the first half-hour of negotiations and subsequently been given indication of the council of ministers’ decision by the president of the CTO.
Enrique de Marchena, president of CHTA, said that the crisis had brought certain issues to the fore that required a new approach across the Caribbean region.
‘One of the things we learnt from the downturn is that we have to work as a region. We can no longer afford to see ourselves as a set of island nations. The competition in a downturned economy is not [each other] but the rest of the world.
‘The decision of the CTO was to work in hand with the private sector. Philosophically the call for unity is very important but most important is unity for action… it will not be resolved by sitting down waiting for God to resolve it,’ he said.
He went on to concede that although the idea had been around for 14 years or more it was still relevant as it was vital to work together to strengthen the tourism sector.
Mr. de Marchena said that according to the World Travel & Tourism Council the Caribbean economies were most dependent on tourism, with an economic trickle-down effect to associated industries including agriculture, telecommunication, transportation, commerce, banking and others.
Decreased visitor arrivals have reduced the coffers and as a result tourism budgets have been reduced, making it paramount that a region-wide marketing fund be established alongside the individual destinations’ budgets, said the CHTA president.
‘The governments have so far not been able to agree on how the funds for a Caribbean marketing plan should be generated. While the governments of the Caribbean may have recognised the importance of tourism, the need for action now is critical for their economies.’
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association suggested that a precedent has been set by the United States Travel Industry Association, whose promotional and marketing budgets are boosted by a $10 ticket tax.
A similar tax on all incoming airline tickets could be split 50/50 between a sustainable, region-wide marketing fund and destination marketing, explained Mr. de Marchena. A proposed across-the-board tax on air and cruise tickets had been mooted in 2007.
Jamaica has already put a tax in place which was hailed as a success, but other countries are not in favour of a direct tax. Several have indicated that they would prefer to find their own contribution to the budget from other resources, an idea that was deemed ‘unrealistic’ by CHTA.
At the same time as Jamaica enacted its $10 tax on air tickets it had also introduced a $2 tax on cruise tickets. However, to date, none of the cruise providers had paid that tax.
Several countries have signed up to the memorandum of understanding, but specific names have not been released as not everyone has had a chance to discuss it, explained Mr. de Marchena.
He said that in the next two weeks all ministers that were not present would have the opportunity to give their views and subsequently a public announcement would be made. Time, though, was of the essence because there were already countries keen to move forward with the process, he said.
‘Some of the islands who are already clear that action is needed are not going to wait for those islands who are still thinking of what they are going to do. They are going to go ahead and do it.
‘Jamaica and Dominica Republic are very clear [about it], even Cuba very clearly knows that they have to go forward and realise that tourism is the industry that can bring them out of the hole they’re in.’
Mr. de Marchena said that he was worried that some countries would be left behind if they dragged their feet. Therefore, unity for action and going forward as an entire entity was essential.
Cayman Islands officials are considering the proposal and its implications. Acting Director of Tourism Shomari Scott, said that while it was a matter to be decided at ministerial level, it looked promising.
‘There are collaborative components of it that should help the Caribbean region as a whole to get more visitors. If the pie grows our piece gets bigger so it’s a win-win,’ he said.