Tourism is key, says hotel boss

Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association President Josef Forstmayr has said tourism is key to the region.

Speaking at a special tourism awareness month dinner in St. Kitts, he told assembled delegates the travel and tourism economy in 2011 would account for significant ‘double-digit’ contributions to the region’s gross domestic product, its employment (2.2 million jobs), its exports and overall investment in the region.

He said the World Travel and Tourism Council forecasted travel and tourism’s contribution to the Caribbean’s GDP will be $70 billion by the year 2021.

“In the past 20 years the structure of the Caribbean economy has changed almost beyond recognition,” he said. “It has moved from one that was largely agriculture-dependent and preference based, requiring government’s constant intervention, to one that now, to a significant extent, is being driven by tourism, an industry that is private sector led, largely without subsidies and dependent on the region’s natural environment. Of the 10 countries in the world most dependent on tourism, seven are in the Caribbean.”

“Many in the public and private sectors, as well as our people, still have great difficulty understanding this,” said the hotelier.

Foreign exchange

Mr. Forstmayr said his first act as president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association was to launch the Tourism Is Key advocacy campaign, underlining the importance of travel and tourism to oCaribbean economies.

“Using the World Travel and Tourism Council’s data, we have now run the Tourism Is Key advertising and PR campaign in eleven countries,” he said. “It targets a broad audience from Caribbean Heads of State to its citizens and stakeholders, illustrating both regionally and in each destination: The impact of tourism on jobs, the impact of tourism on the wider economy, the impact of tourism on investments for the future and the value of foreign exchange generated by tourism.”

Mr. Forstmayr said the four pillars of the Tourism is Key campaign were advocacy with governments and citizens, linkages of tourism into local industry, agriculture and services, regional integration – improved airlift, less bureaucracy for regional travel and regional marketing.

“There has to be a strong consensus of our leaders and the public so that travel and tourism will receive the full support it needs as the Caribbean’s most vital export industry,” he said. “It is the fastest way to create jobs, grow the economy and generate income for all. Every citizen needs to understand that, whether or not he or she works directly in the tourism areas, every tourist’s dollar brings economic and social benefits to every level of our society.”

Mr. Forstmayr highlighted linkages between the hotel industry and local economies of the Caribbean. Based on a hotel spend study that reached back to 2007, he said that 74 per cent of vegetables were sourced locally, 67 per cent of dairy products were sourced locally, 63 per cent of meat products were sourced locally and that the hotel sector sourced 50 per cent of alcoholic beverages locally.

Airlift vital

He said the subject of airlift was ‘all-important’.

“There are no ‘drive-ins’ in the Caribbean – most of our guests arrive by air. The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association estimated that in 2010 the Caribbean governments collectively paid $45 million to secure air-lift – only to find that our airlift is still inadequate and still very expensive for our visitors,” Mr. Forstmayr said. “Furthermore intra-Caribbean tourism once represented 13 per cent of the region’s tourism; as much as Canada and 50 per cent of Europe’s arrivals. The combined population of Caribbean countries is 40 million. However, due to the lack of a competitive and truly regional airline, regional tourism has been suffocated by outrageous ticket prices and a cumbersome and ill-conceived network.

“Caribbean nationals cannot travel freely between their countries without being subjected to visas, long immigration lines and other bureaucratic indulgences that stifle any sense of hospitality, the Caribbean’s trademark,” he said.

Mr. Forstmayr said the moves toward establishing a region-wide Caribbean travel website were more positive and that the marketing and business development unit of the tourism industry had made a significant financial commitment thereto.

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