The Greater Caribbean This Week Rescuing Caribbean tourism
by Norman Girvan
Guyana Chronicle
November 11, 2001

IN RECENT years tourism has been one of the most buoyant industries in the world economy.

In 2000, international tourist arrivals grew by 7.4 per cent -- double that of the previous year -- reaching a total of 699 million and generating an estimated $476 billion.

The Greater Caribbean's share in this business is roughly four per cent. In 16 countries of the region, tourism is the largest earner of foreign exchange.

But even before September 11, it was clear that 2001 was not going to be a good year for the international tourism industry.

The point was made by the World Tourism Organisation (WTO) in its initial analysis of the effects of September 11 on world tourism, a document considered at an extraordinary meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Special Committee on Sustainable Tourism held in Caracas, Venezuela last week.

Prior to September 11, the forecast 2001 growth of international tourism had been cut to two to three per cent, less than half the previous year's growth.

The slowdown in the U.S. economy and decline in the stock market were the main contributing factors.

The WTO has shaved its 2001 growth forecast by a further 1.5 per cent to take account of the impact of September 11. But this assumes no "new and extraordinary developments" that will further affect people's willingness to travel.

The only thing that is certain for now is the fact of uncertainty.

The challenge for the Greater Caribbean region is to develop effective coping strategies for the industry to deal with a situation for which there is no precedent in its history as a tourist destination.

That is due to two factors: the United States, where the fear of flying is greatest, is the region's largest single tourism market; in addition, the region is geographically adjacent to the United States, which is seen by European travellers as a potentially unsafe destination.

During periods of armed conflict, according to the WTO report, tourists avoid the areas of conflict and those perceived as being close at hand.

Interregional traffic falls and tourists shift to alternative locations within their own region or country. These trends were observed during the Gulf War in 1991 and the Kosovo conflict in 1999.

This suggests three elements in Greater Caribbean coping strategies.

First, persuade U.S. tourists that the region is a safe, "close to home" alternative to travelling further afield.

Second, persuade non-U.S. tourists that the region is a distinct destination and travel experience in its own right that is not subject to the same safety concerns affecting the U.S.

Third, promote intra-regional travel within the Greater Caribbean: a regional holiday is both foreign and close to home.

It calls for three kinds of marketing and promotion strategies: one for the United States market, another for non-U.S. markets especially Europe and South America, and a third within the Greater Caribbean itself.

In addition, security on airlines and at airports and hotels will become, more than ever before, intrinsic components of the tourist product, requiring special programmes and services.

What this amounts to is a comprehensive strategy for the re-positioning of tourism in the Greater Caribbean region. For this, a greater level of regional cooperation than has been shown in the past will be required.

But then, everyone agrees that the world has changed.

Rescuing Caribbean tourism (Part 2)
By Norman Girvan
THE elements of a programme to reposition tourism in the Greater Caribbean already exist.

This became evident from reports presented at the Extraordinary Meeting of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Sustainable Tourism Committee held in Caracas November 5-6, which reviewed initiatives taken in response to the fallout from September 11.

These initiatives can be integrated into a coherent long-term strategy that goes beyond crisis management, avoids unnecessary competition and exploits the complementarities of visitor attractions in the region.

The first element, represented by the initial advertising campaigns, is to market the region to the traditional U.S. market as a safe destination that is "close to home". But recent events suggest that fear of flying in the U.S. will continue for some time and is largely outside of the region's control.

Furthermore the U.S. Government is itself countering the travel industry crisis by providing tax incentives for domestic vacations.

Risk factor considerations suggest that the region's precious advertising dollars should be balanced between efforts in the U.S. market and a new thrust in non-U.S. markets, starting with Canada, Europe and South America. Many vacationers from these regions have cancelled their U.S. travel plans because of security fears.

The U.S. receives 51 million visitors annually, about three times the number of visitors to the region. Inbound travel to the U.S. has fallen dramatically since September 11.

The second element of the strategy means differentiating the Greater Caribbean as a distinct region with a unique travel experience in international tourism.

First-time visitors would be encouraged to discover the region, with the aim of making it an ongoing option in their travel plans.

The key words here are diversity and complementarity.

Besides the sun, sea and sand tourism of the islands the Greater Caribbean boasts the "Maya World" of Central America, spectacular mountains and waterfalls in the islands and mainland, volcanic activity, pre-Columbian and colonial architecture, eco-tourism attractions and numerous carnival-type festivals.

They could be projected internationally as offering a wide range of unique experiences to the sophisticated traveller.

The third element is the promotion of domestic tourism.

Costa Rica and Mexico are now doing this by offering special discounts to residents.

But domestic tourism in our context should be defined to include intra-regional travel. St. Lucia, for instance, is seeking to attract visitors from neighbouring Martinique; a similar programme has been launched in Central America.

Such programmes could be expanded to become an integral part of the development of regional tourism.

It makes use of the region's diversity, while facilitating cultural understanding and business contact.

A coordinated approach to the region's tourism could build on sub-regional initiatives already taken by CARICOM and Central America respectively to launch joint promotional campaigns in response to September 11.

And a framework exists in the agreement, negotiated by the ACS, to establish the Greater Caribbean as the first Zone of Sustainable Tourism in the international industry.

A Convention to give legal effect to the STZ is to be signed at the 3rd ACS Summit in December.

In the current international environment, sustainability has taken on a new meaning. The Convention should be used as a platform for the repositioning of the region's tourism.

Competition within the region is natural, and will continue.

But it can be supplemented by a recognition of the mutual benefits to be had from wider regional cooperation in response to the crisis.

(Prof. Norman Girvan is Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS.)