Nadir unduly negative on tourism paper
-Caribbean Hospitality Association head
By Miranda La Rose
July 15, 2002
Director General and Chief Executive Officer of the Caribbean Hospitality Association (CHA), John Bell believes that the position taken by Minister of Tourism, Industry and Commerce, Manzoor Nadir on the Caribbean Tourism Strategic Plan (CTSP) presented to the CARICOM Heads of Government recently, was unduly negative.
Responding to Nadir's comments in the July 11 edition of the Stabroek News that the CTSP misses the mark by a mile and will sadly go down as another study with some rehashed recommendations, Bell said he felt it was wrong to call the draft document, presented to the Heads of Government at the their last summit held in Georgetown earlier this month, a plan. The CTSP was, in his opinion, more of a tourism conceptual paper than a plan. Bell spoke to Stabroek News by telephone from the CHA's Puerto Rico-based office on Friday.
The CTSP was presented to the CARICOM Heads of Government at the just-concluded Twenty-third Meeting of the CARICOM Heads of Government Conference. The heads broadly accepted the plan which included the establishment of a Sustainable Tourism Development Fund but gave member states until month end to submit any proposals for refinement after which the plan will be published. Guyana, Nadir said in a statement following the meeting of the heads, "cautiously supports" the plan.
Commenting on Nadir's remarks that the CTSP did not address the special nature of Guyana's tourism, Bell said "if anyone expected a strategic plan to come out that would deal with each individual specific concerns, certainly in the 33 member countries of the CTO or the 35 member countries of the CHA that would not be realistic."
He said that if the consultants had to write plans for each specific country, much longer than the three months given the consultants to determine the state of the industry in the region, would have been required.
However, he said that the entire Caribbean, with all its complexities - French, Dutch, English, Spanish cultures, the rainforests of Dominica, Belize, Guyana and Costa Rica, the desert island like Curacao and the traditional offering of sand, sea and surf - was considered. The Caribbean with its islands, mainland countries, cultures and its diversity, he said were its richest aspects.
He noted that the tourism products Guyana, Suriname and Belize offer were fundamentally different to the rest of the Caribbean island countries but there was nothing in the CTSP that discriminates against them.
Guyana, he added "has huge potential. But there was no way that the (CTSP) could have focused in depth and in detail on Guyana's potential."
If the Government of Guyana was to emphasise the importance of tourism and was determined to increase tourist arrivals to the country, Bell said "they will have to give it a realistic budget" adding that it was no different from other productive sectors. In the past, he said that many Caribbean islands had tiny budgets but learnt that to make money out of the industry they had to put money to get money out of it.
Collectively the CTO/ CHA membership includes CARICOM members and associate members; US and French overseas departments. If waiting on compliance for all the recommendations to go through, such as, the two cents or three cents taxation suggested for each tourist to the region by every member country, or, allowing differences stand in the way of each proposal, then there would be no headway, Bell said.
Using the CHA as an example, Bell said that if the CHA had to wait on all 35 member countries to sign on the dotted line then we probably would have done nothing at all. He said that generally the CHA would start with a sub-regional approach and when the project began, others would come on board.
The easy thing to do, he said was to throw up the hands and give up. However, he said that in spite of the differences among the 35-member CHA, "we made it work... we generated regional services including putting together publications that are Pan Caribbean; brought into the region international operators from every part of the world, among other things."
Referring to Nadir's comments that the plan could not stand alone outside of the Sustainable Tourism Development Fund which he described as being bigger than the CARICOM countries, Bell said that "it is difficult, but by saying it will never work, it is something that I will never buy."
Bell, who has worked in the tourism industry for more than 30 years said that he was a believer in a regional approach to tourism issues and he believed the position paper, dubbed the CTSP, was the right approach. In the industry, he said that "you cannot wave a magic wand and expect changes overnight."
Commenting on the objective of the plan, Bell said that his understanding of what the CARICOM heads required of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation/Caribbean Hospitality Association was a position paper on the industry rather than a strategic plan in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attack on the US and the subsequent slump in the travel and tourism industry. He felt that "the paper was a well structured attempt to address all the areas in a statement."
Some of the recommendations, he said, were made previously but were still relevant and some came out of the CARICOM heads' special summit in the Bahamas in November last year to deal with tourism following September 11, and others through limited consultations.
At the summit, heads dealt with the issues of marketing, safety and security and linkages and by the end they had not finished their business, he said. Recognising the task they had set themselves, they agreed that their plans should be amalgamated into a larger tourism plan.
The suggestion that there was need for a sustainable tourism fund, he said, came out of the private sector because the Caribbean has been losing market share over the past ten years and needs to substantially invest in the industry to get real returns.
If the region was going to have a competitive tourism industry, he said that it was not only a matter of promoting tourism but delivering a better product, better environment, better management, safer climate and raising standards in hotels and other sectors which the tourism industry interfaces with, than there may be at present.
"If we the private sector do not find sustainable funding to promote the Caribbean as the world's greatest destination", he said "we'll be marginalised by Mexico, Las Vegas, South East Asia (among others)... the whole world is out there competing for our dollar."
Asked what were some of the other recommendations made to the Heads of Government, Bell advised that the media await the 100-page report when it is made public. He was only responding to issues Nadir raised, he said.