|Beverly Nicholson-Doty, chairperson of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)|
The head of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) asked the region's ambassadors to Europe to remember the importance of tourism as a major economic driver and as a potent anti-poverty tool.
Speaking to a gathering of Caribbean envoys in Brussels, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, CTO chairperson and commissioner of the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism, lauded their championing of the region "as one of the world's preferred warm weather destinations and a preferred place to do business and to invest," but lamented "tourism, in spite of its massive contribution to the GDP of our respective countries and territories, is one of those industries which does not get the priority attention it deserves."
Noting tourism was by far the largest industry in the Caribbean region and the fastest growing sector in the world, she said, "getting it placed as a priority agenda for our heads of government remains challenging."
Multinational organizations based in Brussels like the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP), list as a priority "fighting the scourge of poverty, so allow me to reiterate that tourism is one of the most powerful tools for poverty alleviation."
Pointing out the Caribbean has long been faced with barriers to its traditional exports to Europe, she stated "the great thing about tourism is that the consumer is brought to the producer."
It is also a resilient industry in which "the vast majority of our tourism companies have 10 or fewer employees and many are run by women."
While it is difficult to get most economic sectors to the rural areas it was not the case with tourism because "tourists seek out the lesser trodden trails for their cultural richness and rich biodiversity. So, tourism turns the economic disincentive of geographic isolation into an asset."
Nicholson-Doty contended "tourism is particularly good news for savvy investors because it is the industry of growth in the Caribbean and that growth is registered across so many different sectors - from the obvious: hospitality and transportation, through to the less obvious areas affected directly and indirectly by tourism: construction, agribusiness, health, education and, among many others, the creative industries.
Tourism for most of the region's countries and territories is our major earner, she declared, "and part of this income actually trickles down to many other sectors as the industry reduces poverty by (building) micro and small private companies covering everything from handicraft through to health."
To take full advantage of the tourism benefits, Nicholson-Doty pointed to the need to build the capacity of those working in the sector. For example, she said, "the CTO could take a lead (in) training, particularly for SME tourism businesses in areas such as web marketing, social media, development of packages and negotiating agreements with tour operators."
To deliver change, "(areas) where we feel we can add value to the industry, (include) improving national websites, assisting SMEs to market their properties, providing support and technical assistance to help resorts achieve Blue Flag status, promoting tourism at the primary school level, developing language training programs as we begin to target emerging markets, and the rolling out of Tourism Satellite Accounting across the region so we can better measure the impact of tourism."
Furthermore, with the help of the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), "we can also promote more exchanges and study tours to support different Caribbean industries and to develop new business in Europe; and market visits to Europe to support understanding of the market and the particular regulations and standards with which Caribbean tourism business need to comply."
For the conservation-minded she offered good news: "Almost half of international tourists are selecting developing countries for their vacations. They feel a closer connection to the environment and to the people with their rich heritage."
The CTO head reported tourism was "the first or second source of export earnings in 20 of the world's least developed countries but in many of our Caribbean states visitor earnings can account for more than 25 percent of GDP."
By linking consumers to producers, tourism provides tangible and practical benefits, which she reported "ranged from increased awareness of our cultural richness and values to improved local investment in infrastructure."
"Caribbean people will argue over many things, but they are unanimous and non-partisan in their commitment to make healthy economies even more robust and profitable," she asserted, which is why "we need to see greater commitments from our policy-makers to recognize the true value of tourism to the economy so they, in turn, can ensure national budgets reflect the need to responsibly develop our region's major economic driver. Tourism must, therefore, become more of a serious policy issue for you, our representatives here in Brussels."