Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Just days ahead of the CARICOM heads of government meeting in Montego Bay, St James, tourism stakeholders are calling for collective action on the long-promised regional marketing fund.
The idea for the fund appears to have been discarded and regional governments are being criticised for taking a nationalistic approach to an industry that now requires broader attention.
"Our heads must now step outside the box and find the resources to fund a regional marketing programme that will see us branding ourselves as One Caribbean," Josef Forstmayr, newly elected president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Organisation (CHTA), told The Gleaner yesterday.
The CHTA president wants these critical issues placed on the CARICOM agenda when they meet from Sunday to Wednesday.
Forstmayr's call is in synch with industry stakeholders' belief that public officials simply do not understand tourism's impact on industries such as construction, real estate, manufacturing, agriculture and other sectors of the economy.
With an urgent need to market Brand Caribbean, Forstmayr, who represents a network of 35 hotel associations across the region, said it was not only pivotal to enhance the skills of the workers interfacing with the visitors but to improve the existing product.
His organisation is committed to matching whatever funding is approved by allocating everything from accommodation, services and sponsorship opportunities.
The CHTA is not alone in its observations. At the recent Caribbean Hotel and Investment Conference in Puerto Rico, former CEO and chairman of American Airlines, Robert Crandall, said he was convinced that the Caribbean's value proposition could be strengthened by making the visitor experience outstanding.
"Persuade travellers that the Caribbean is their optimum choice," he told delegates at the event.
According to Crandall, one of the most important areas to be addressed was the hostile interface with immigration officers and lengthy completion of documents.
"I often think when I arrive on one or another Caribbean island that the immigration folks would prefer that I had not come," he lamented.
Crandall said it was time for every Caribbean government to improve immigration processes, minimise the time spent on forms and provide a welcoming rather than a hostile interface.
Second, he said he felt that every destination that hopes to attract tourism needs to come to grips with the reality that we live in a continuously connected world.
"Tourists will avoid and, in time, reject altogether anywhere that does not make continuous high-quality Internet a reality."
He noted that many places in the Caribbean fall short of that standard.
Crandall spoke of the need to improve public-service levels while overcoming the resistance to regional marketing.
He said the region's governments must come together and act collectively to increase awareness across the region.
Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Wayne Cummings wants the heads of government to discuss the true effects of GDP to the region.
"The Planning Institute of Jamaica says it's 7.5 per cent, but the World Travel and Tourism Council say it's 27.7 per cent when direct and indirect is calculated."
He, too, feels that it is time for political leaders to deliver on their promises made to support a regional fund.