Global tourism stakeholders recently gathered in Jamaica for the first Global Tourism Resilience Conference, to discuss and develop plans around building resilience-capacity into what is the third largest export sector worldwide.
The three-day conference concluded on the inaugural Global Tourism Resilience Day, February 17th – an occasion which came into being after the United Nations adopted a resolution by Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, to reserve this day every year to focus on strengthening the tourism industry. The resolution was supported by over 90 countries.
Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, second from right, shows off the MOU signed between Jamaica and the city of Malaga, Spain, for tourism co-operation.
In his feature address , Bartlett noted that in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, tourism has emerged as one of the fastest growing industries, now the third largest export industry in the world, and the Caribbean is leading that charge! This despite the region having taken a significant hit during the pandemic, with Jamaica suffering a 20 per cent decrease in GDP during the height of the pandemic. He said, “Up to last year the last figures that came out showed that the Caribbean region was about 80 per cent recovered for tourism, in the case of Jamaica, we were about 97 per cent recovered and now for the year we are 5 per cent ahead of 2019, January to February so far.” Bartlet posited that this was due to sustainability measures taken over the years, to resilience capacity – prior planning to prepare and respond to shocks, (environmental, human and social)with Jamaica having established a task-force shortly after the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Foreigners staying closer to home
The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Economic Advisor for the Caribbean, Henry Mooney noted that experts predicted global tourism recovery by 2024, and many economies worldwide are still on that trajectory, with the exception of the Caribbean. According to Mooney, with a significant percentage of Caribbean economies dependent on tourism, now is the time for Caribbean governments to take advantage of this trend. Speaking during the Economic Outlook panel discussion, Mooney shared that recent polls show a preference for Caribbean destinations, from many of the key advanced economies that are the source markets for Caribbean destinations with the United States being the major one for most Caribbean economies. He said, “People are preferring to stay closer to home, people are preferring not to get on planes for 8 or 12 hours, preferring shorter flights from US, Canada to Caribbean which is benefiting the region. So there’s a lot of reasons for optimism, certainly for the Caribbean and Latin America more generally. We have seen strong performance and that has been in large part because of work governments did before, during and after the crisis.”
The south to south model — connecting Africa to the Caribbean
With natural synergies in terms of culture and heritage, Caribbean and African stakeholders agree the two regions should be connected through tourism. Director of Tourism for the African Union Chiza Chiumya described it like this, “This cultural heritage should be used as a bridge. The ocean is dividing the two regions but we are saying the culture is the same on both sides, so why can’t we use that as building blocks for our economies?”
He further noted that of the top 20 most tourism-reliant countries in the world, 13 are in the Caribbean. He noted that tourism is also very key to Africa, contributing 8 per cent of GDP.
Meantime, Executive President of the African Tourism Board Cuthbert Ncube, shared that with 54 countries to choose from, before Covid struck Africa was the fastest growing tourist destination in the world, and that African airlines such as Ethiopian Airlines and Kenya Airways continued operations to major destinations such as the US, during the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, he lamented challenges with travel and connectivity for African nationals. In an interview with Express Business Ncube said the lack of direct flights to Africa from major ports, as well as onerous visa requirements for African nationals, make the move towards the Afro-Caribbean connection all the more logical.
He said, “Visas are not necessary. Yes, we need a contingency of controlling who comes into the country, but in essence when we talk about recovering the tourism sector we need to take that into cognisance – how best can we do away with visas? Those are old regimes – we don’t need it, we need to build legacy within the tourism space!”
Multi-destination tourism — co-petition vs competition
Closer to home, plans are also in the works to have multiple Caribbean destination offerings to make one dynamic tourist experience, at a minimum cost and with seamless travel and accommodation arrangements. Bartlett explained to Express Business: “Countries in the Caribbean have issues with critical mass to attract large carriers to come into our space. However if we were to all come together, we’re now talking about 37 million people. So airlines coming from the Middle East for example. that take about 600 people at once, can now come and hub in Jamaica and then radiate from Jamaica into those countries, and similarly have connectivity from those countries into the hub. So, we’d be able to extend our market and share with smaller countries with limited critical mass and with larger countries with more critical mass, and that’s what multi-destination does – it offers an opportunity for sharing of resources!”
Where does Trinidad and Tobago factor in all of this?
While T&T was not represented at the conference, stakeholders agree that T&T can play a critical role in the realisation of this vision, given that Caribbean Airlines is the largest carrier in the region. Minister Bartlett said, “CAL is well-poised to do the feeder – moving from Jamaica to Cuba to Barbados to Trinidad, and also distribution into US destinations, so a discussion with Caribbean Airlines on multi-destination is critical. We’re also seeing more smaller airlines coming up, therefore Caribbean air connectivity is improving. For example we have Arajet coming out of Dominican Republic and we’re also talking to Sunrise Airways out of Haiti. So there are a number of other smaller airlines that will be able to do the connectivity within the region and that will improve also T&T’s tourism, because the more airlines that can go into your space is the more available you are for tourist travel.”
Tourism — The top diversification strategy
The USAID representative at the conference, Ibrahim Osta, noted that many countries around the world are pushing tourism as a means of diversifying their economies, as the industry is among the most labour-intensive sectors. He said, “Tourism is one of the largest employers in the world. Eleven out of 100 people worldwide work in travel and tourism or are supported by it. We estimate that at least 80 million people are going to be needed to work in the travel and tourism sectors in the next three years.”
Osta told Express Business, the World Economic Forum ranks Trinidad and Tobago 114th in terms of brand positioning – a ranking he viewed as “unfair” given this twin-island Republic’s “rich cultural patrimony”. He asked, “How can T&T enhance its country image? It takes marketing, it takes engagement with media, engagement with influencers. The solutions are there, it is possible. Half a million people came to T&T at its peak and only half a billion dollars – that’s about 2 per cent of GDP. Now compare that to other Caribbean countries that earn 40 per cent, 50 per cent, 60 per cent out of tourism. Because you have energy exporting, you may not get tourism up to that point, but look at Saudi Arabia. By 2030, Saudi Arabia says tourism is going to become their second top industry, so if Saudi Arabia is looking at tourism as a growth engine, Trinidad and Tobago can definitely do the same.”