Aviation issues were at the forefront of a region-wide tourism summit held on 14-16 June in Montego Bay, Jamaica.
The event was attended by Jane van der Bol, executive director of the private sector body Cayman Islands Tourism Association.
“[Outgoing president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association] Josef Forstmayr hit on the excessive intra-Caribbean airfares and lack of comprehensive, user-friendly transportation network in our region”. Intra-Caribbean travel fell by two-thirds between 2006 and 2010 – which means the region lost more than one million Caribbean visitors.
“That loss of visitors equates to losing over one-third of all Canadian tourists and over one-fifth of all European tourists. Josef Forstmayr called for action,” Ms van der Bol said.
A speech by David Scowsill, president and chief executive officer of the World Travel and Tourism Council, noted that there would be one billion travelling tourists during 2012 – one seventh of the world’s population. He said that one of every four people employed in the Caribbean were employed in tourism.
The Caribbean was complemented by Taleb Rifai, secretary general of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation. He said the region showed how a region could come together for the benefit of all.
“The world needs 600 million jobs to sustain a normal healthy economic growth. Financial systems are very fragile and consumer and business confidences are low. Despite these challenges, tourism continues to grow at an impressive manner,” he said.
However, aviation experts noted that jet fuel was at US$130 a barrel. This represents about half the ticket cost from the United Kingdom to the Caribbean and with taxes also high this created an issue.
Director of Tourism for Jamaica John Lynch noted that every 35 tourists arriving created one job in tourism. He called for a Caribbean airline hub and said that in the case of the Eastern Caribbean, falling cruise numbers and the pull out of American Eagle threatened to cause problems.
Service and rate
Officials called for high levels of service, which were seen as key to strengthening average daily rates in hotels. The industry, said John Jeffries of Bermuda, had never been “so discounted”. Technology, training and an understanding of the sector’s importance in government were key to strengthening the industry, he said.
Ms van der Bol said it was important that Cayman was represented at the conference.
“I was very impressed with the quality of content for the Tourism Summit along with the speakers. I think that it was critical that the Cayman Islands were represented at this conference as we need to work together in our region.
“Tourism is very competitive worldwide and the Caribbean has a unique draw due to our location, natural beauty and weather. We truly need to be ‘Together for Tourism’,” she said, quoting an oft-repeated Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association slogan.