By Dr. Chandi Jayawardena,
THERE IS no other region in the World that is so dependent on tourism for economic growth as the Caribbean. Annual tourist arrivals to the Caribbean are now around 20 million. In addition, over 12 million cruise passengers visit the region annually.
According to the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), during the past decade the Caribbean enjoyed a 5.5% average annual growth rate in tourist arrivals, which was higher than the 4.2% growth rate of the world. Compared to the world average, the Caribbean records a significantly high 25% of its workforce in tourism-related businesses. With over US$17,900 million in total tourist receipts in 1998, the Caribbean (as one destination) in terms of revenue was ahead of major tourist destinations such as Germany, Austria and China. The Caribbean was placed sixth in the world's tourism League Table behind the USA, Italy, France, Spain and the UK.
In terms of tourism receipts in 1998, the following seven countries/destinations can be ranked as the tourism leaders in the Caribbean:
1. Cancun (in Mexico)
2. Dominican Republic
3. Puerto Rico
Significant increases in the contribution of tourism to regional economies are clearly evident. But, tourism as a viable industry received less than its fair share of attention in the past from politicians, public sector policymakers, planners, managers, researchers and academics in most of the Caribbean countries.
There is a lack of a consistent definition of tourism as an economic sector. There is also a lack of appreciation by some of the region's governments of the need for an overall strategic plan and a well co-ordinated approach to ensure the sustainability of tourism.
Future of tourism
CTO's predictions for the future appear to be optimistic as shown in the table above.
The future of tourism in the Caribbean will depend largely on the ability of the region to deliver a high quality product that corresponds to the changing tastes, needs, wants and demands of the international traveller. Careful segmentation and niche marketing strategies may result in market broadening and growth. This will contribute towards the optimisation of income from tourism, and thereby economic growth. The Caribbean now has more than 250,000 hotel rooms and it is projected to rise to over 400,000 by the year 2010.
Greater attention will be required in planning for overall infrastructure and logistics for resort cities and villages chosen for hotel development projects. This has to be adequate for expanding local communities, additional tourists, as well as increasing number of direct and indirect tourism employees. As an example, the largest hotel in the Caribbean, Atlantis located in the Paradise Island; the Bahamas created 6,000 new jobs. Most of these employees coming from other areas of the Bahamas had to find accommodation in the areas closer to the hotel.
Public sector authorities have also to be fully focused on assessing the carrying capacity for each tourist attraction near these expanding and new resort areas. More importantly, they must take appropriate action to ensure the sustainability of such attractions for the benefit of current and future generations of local populations.
External factors will have a significant influence on the future of the tourism industry in the Caribbean. Sound environmental management systems, globally accepted quality assurance systems, growing customer expectations and demands for better value for money will be some of the major challenges for the future. There is also the need to reduce the continued over dependency on North America feeder markets. Many Caribbean destinations will therefore have to find creative ways to increase arrivals mainly from Europe, Latin America as well as the Caribbean intra-regional market.
Sustainable tourism development
Success of tourism in the Caribbean, in general, has not been a planned achievement or as a result of a strategic option. In a majority of the Caribbean countries, tourism has emerged accidentally as an economic saviour when the traditional agro-export sector failed to retain its position in the global market place.
The future economic survival of the Caribbean region seems to largely depend on the development of a sustainable tourism industry. Sustainable development is a concept that marries two conflicting ideas: development and sustainability.
Achieving a balance is therefore an important strategic goal, which requires moderation, control and coordination. Sustainability is often addressed from an environmental perspective. Less frequently this is coupled with socio-cultural concerns. The preservation of the environment, though a necessary condition; is not sufficient for the sustainability of tourism.
The sustainability of tourism in the Caribbean is threatened by negative environmental impacts, escalating competition, loss of control of air access, low profitability of some sectors of tourism, rising level of crime and harassment of tourists in some countries and failure of the local population to benefit directly from tourism.
In addition to mass tourism, which primarily depends on sun, sea and sand elements of tourism product, the Caribbean needs to develop and market other types of tourism in a strategic manner.
Eco tourism and special interest tourism, which includes sub sectors such as agro-tourism, adventure tourism, sports tourism, heritage tourism, health tourism and community tourism may have a key role to play in this strategic approach.
To ensure the sustainability of tourism in the Caribbean it is seen as essential to improve communication and teamwork, and to strengthen the links between many key players. These are regional organisations such as CARICOM; Public Sector funded Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Private Sector funded Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), 32 National Tourism Organisations, National Tourism/Hotel Associa-tions and academic institutions.
Future economic growth in the Caribbean depends on the teamwork by the above-mentioned institutions to ensure sustainable tourism development by placing the local communities as the focus of the decisions for the future. Various creative initiatives for tourism development, mostly very good ones can be observed in the Caribbean. But often lack of appreciation of potential contributions and ability of other parties seems to result in below potential outcomes. In this context, improvement in teamwork, communication and coordination between public sector and private sector and the academic institutions in the Caribbean will be the key for the future success of tourism in the Caribbean.
The role of the UWI
The University of the West Indies (UWI), as the only regional university of the Caribbean, has a vital lead role in research, education and vision to play in shaping the future of tourism in the Caribbean.
UWI commenced the region's first master's degree in tourism and hospitality management in 1999 and so far has attracted 46 graduate students from 15 Caribbean countries to this programme. This effort and choosing tourism as the theme of the research day 2000 at the Mona campus can be described as timely, appropriate and significant steps towards the right direction.
Dr. Chandi Jayawardena is the Academic Director and Pro-gramme Leader of the M.Sc. in Tourism and Hospitality Management at UWI. He is also a Senior Lecturer and a Research Fellow of UWI.