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GUEST COMMENTARY: Carribean Tourism: Facing up to Competition

Posted by kinchendavid on September 15, 2006

By Sir Ronald Sanders

A report by John Collins in the publication  The Caribbean Investor  on warnings to the Caribbean tourism industry deserves more attention for it emphasises the urgency of taking action to maintain Caribbean competitiveness in the global market.

Collins reported on the observations of Bill Freeman, the CEO of the Freeman Group, a Dallas based hospitality and improvement company, which has been active in the Caribbean over the last 20 years.

Mr Freeman made two very important observations.

The first is that competition from the rest of the world is set to increase.

Drawing on the work of the Freeman Group in the Caribbean and other parts of the world, Mr Freeman is reported to have said that Caribbean countries are “so intent in blindly competing with one another that they overlook the necessity of collectively cooperating to face other parts of the world.” He drew particular attention to the challenges being posed by countries in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean where “service is guaranteed”.

“The Caribbean”, he said, “is under assault”.

The importance of Caribbean cooperation to compete with the rest of the world is not a new point. It is one that was made tirelessly by the former CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, Jean Holder, and has been repeated by his successor Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace.

But, there remains a fear amongst government officials and national tourism organisations that the allocation of financial resources to promoting the Caribbean would deprive national groups of the funds they need to pull tourists to their destination, and that larger and better know destinations would benefit from advertising of a Caribbean brand.

This is a fear that national organisations should overcome.

The advertising of a Caribbean brand does not conflict with the promotion of an individual country. Indeed, there is great value in doing both.

Mr Freeman’s second observation was a wake-up call. He said: “”More and more visitors to destinations are increasingly judging their vacation experiences on the standards of service rather than on the facilities.” He added that “The same attention paid to hotels has to be extended to their airports, retail sales, taxi service and tours.”

If we are candid about it, service in the Caribbean is not uniformly excellent. There are outstanding taxi drivers as there are diligent workers in the hotels, at airports and in shops. But, generally speaking, service falls behind in comparison with other destinations — particularly in the Pacific and Indian Ocean.

If this pattern continues, Caribbean countries will lose market share as tourists opt to spend their vacation money in destinations where they believe they get the best value.

In this regard, trade union organisations need to join management of hotels, airports, tour operators and taxi driver associations in mounting seminars to educate them about the importance to their jobs of good service, and to train them to deliver it.

And, this should be an on-going arrangement, not a special one. Training seminars, jointly arranged by management and trade unions to train new workers and to refresh the attitudes of seasoned ones should become a permanent feature of the industry.

A recent report by the World Travel and Tourism Council reveals that Caribbean employment in tourism is estimated at 2,643,000 in 2006 or 1 every 6.5 jobs (15.4% of total employment), and the industry is expected to generate US$51.3 billion in economic activity in 2006 and account for 16.4% of GDP.

This means that the entire private sector and work force of many Caribbean countries have a vested interest in making Caribbean tourism competitive in the world, and in ensuring that the quality of service is improved considerably.

For, if the Caribbean’s share of the world tourism market declines, so too will the economies of many countries. With such a decline will come an adverse effect on business ranging from telecommunications and banking through retail stores to local agriculture.

The time has come for wider participation in decision-making about, and funding for, the tourism industry at both the local and regional levels. As a start, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and the Caribbean Hotels Association might consider inviting the Caribbean Labour Organisation and the Caribbean Association of Industry and Commerce to a joint meeting to consider how together they could maintain the Caribbean’s competitiveness in the global market place and improve the quality of its service.

* * *

Sir Ronald Sanders is a business executive and former Caribbean Ambassador to the World Trade Organisation who publishes widely on Small States in the global community. Responses to: ronaldsanders29@hotmail.com


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