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Caribbean tourism sector still struggling for recognition - CTO

Published:Sunday | September 27, 2015 | 12:00 AM

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, CMC - Secretary General and CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Hugh Riley says the tourism sector is still struggling for recognition among regional leaders, despite the “massive impact tourism has on the day to day lives of Caribbean leaders”.

Riley, in his message on Sunday to mark World Tourism Day, made reference to a plea by former chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Bahamas Prime Minister Perry Christie, in July.

“There, Prime Minister Christie pleaded with his fellow leaders to give tourism greater prominence at their meetings, stressing that to do otherwise would send a message that they did not take tourism seriously.”

Riley also pointed to the lack of a fund to market the region as a single destination and the challenges of intra-regional airlift.

Concerning the source markets for the region, the CTO secretary general made note of competition from domestic tourism marketing in the North America; challenging economic conditions in South and Latin America; and the strengthening of the US dollar against the euro, making it cheaper for Americans to visit Europe.

According to Riley, another challenge to Caribbean tourism is “ the mushrooming economy made possible by the World Wide Web, which is effectively redistributing wealth among non-traditional entities”.

But he also pointed to hope for the regional industry, noting that last year tourism contributed to US$29.5 billion to Caribbean economies and this is expected to rise this year.

“Last year our region’s arrivals were up five per cent over 2013 and this year we expect another five per cent or so rise. Our realistic goal is to break the 30 million barrier by the end of 2017. But it won’t be easy,” he said.

The theme for this year’s World Tourism Day is “One Billion Tourists, One Billion Opportunities”.

Riley added that the theme is “a perfect reminder to us of the important impact tourism has on our countries and communities, and the many opportunities to grow our tourism”.

He said over one billion people are expected to travel internationally this year (and this) will challenge us to create experiences and memories that appeal to each individual, so not only will they come again but they will also encourage their friends and families to visit. In essence, it’s one billion opportunities for the most effective advertising there is.”

He said the theme also reminds the region to place greater emphasis on measuring the total value of tourism to the region.

“The CTO has been working with our member countries to implement TSAs (Tourism Satellite Accounting) and we have organised training programmes with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank.”

TSA is considered the most accurate approach to quantify the impact of the travel and tourism sector.

Regarding the future of the sector, Riley said that with arrivals up five per cent over 2013 and with expectations of an increase this year, the goal is to break the 30 million barrier by the end of 2017.

He said another aspect to securing the future of the regional industry is that of properly equipping future tourism practitioners  - a mission that has been undertaken by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Foundation, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Education Foundation and strategic partners.

“The alignment of  these scholarships within areas where there are deficits helps to increase the employment opportunities for these graduates within their chosen fields.”

He called on officials in the sector to get serious about quantifying its true impact on the livelihood of residents, noting that “the sophisticated road networks, world-class health care, solid foreign reserves and complex educational systems – is largely due to the success of the tourism industry”.