By Neil Armstrong
There are challenges ahead for the tourism industry in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries, experts say. But there is much that the region can do to stave off any bleak prospects.
Speaking at the recent Caribbean Tourism Summit and Outlook Seminar in Montego Bay, Jamaica, David Scowsill, the head of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), said Caribbean nations need to speak with one voice to fully tap into the potential that travel and tourism offers.
Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) warned that the volatility in the economies of Europe and the US threatens not only the affected countries but also the world economy. This would affect the Caribbean, where the US and Europe together generate over 75 per cent of all tourist arrivals.
He singled out open skies and open borders as two barriers, but also opportunities, in the industry. Regarding travel facilitation, he said complicated, lengthy and overpriced entry formalities are still making it difficult for tourists to travel. “If aviation could end paper tickets, why wouldn’t we be able to work towards paperless visas,” he said.
Scowsill noted that cruise tourism has been in decline, especially in Jamaica, for four consecutive years. Capital investment in tourism has fallen by 0.3 per cent in 2011 in the Caribbean and thus, drops much behind that of Latin America which has seen a growth of 6.3 per cent during the same year.
On the matter of air transport, he said the full potential of the sector in the region is still untapped. The WTTC head said missed opportunities such as a rigorous follow-up of the San Juan Accord on a single Caribbean aviation policy in 2008 hamper the success of this crucial sector.
The apparent lack of liberalisation and some elements of government protectionism block ways to fully reaping the benefits of a dynamic air transport industry.
The UK’s Air Passenger Duty tax was increased again in April this year and Scowsill said that arguments and pleas by the industry have continued to fall on deaf ears. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment, is in support of one regional aviation policy for the Caribbean.
“If we can better foster cooperation among ourselves I am sure it will be beneficial to us all. Globalisation and global travel presents both opportunities and challenges to our region and I believe we must, more so now than ever, seek to pool our knowledge, resources and strengths as one body,” he said in his opening remarks at the summit.
Senator Richard “Ricky” Skerritt, chairman of the council of ministers and commissioners of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation describes the issues affecting tourism in the Caribbean as urgent.
“As the Caribbean continues to face major airlift challenges, coupled with increasing global competition from new and emerging tourist destinations, addressing key issues related to visitor arrivals and expenditure growth and sustainability is not a matter of choice, but urgency,” said Skerritt, who is also the minister of tourism and international transport, St. Kitts and Nevis.
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) wants policies implemented that will make travel to and between countries easier. “We must cut out the red tape that has hampered the entry of foreign visitors as well as the all-important intra-Caribbean market that was once our third largest source of visitors,” said Alec Sanguinetti, director general and CEO of the CHTA.
Usually held as separate events, the Caribbean Tourism and the Tourism Outlook Seminar were merged this year as Jamaica celebrates its 50th anniversary of Independence in 2012, which coincides with the CHTA’s golden anniversary.
The event was jointly organized by the CHTA, the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and the Jamaica Tourist Board, in partnership with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC).