Caribbean Tourism Conference focuses on collaboration By Annan Boodram

Stabroek News
November 1, 2002

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The Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s main focus at its just concluded Annual Conference in Grand Bahama has been on finding ways of branding the Caribbean and working collaboratively in all aspects of tourism.

However, this approach was not without its detractors. St. Kitts Tourism Minister, G.A. Dwyer Astaphan threw a spanner in the works when he put out a press release calling for the OECS and other small Eastern Caribbean territories to establish their own arrangements to sustainably manage, promote and market themselves.

Astaphan’s press release said small Eastern Caribbean destinations are “mere bridesmaids in the CTO and other entities, that we are not getting bang for our precious bucks from those arrangements, that promotion of a generic Caribbean Brand does nothing to enhance the images of emerging small island destinations, and that the institutional response of the regional industry to 9/11 has not advanced our cause”.

This had been a concern of Guyana’s Minister of Tourism Mansoor Nadir. Guyana was not represented at this conference and when contacted yesterday Nadir said he had reviewed the agenda of the conference and did not think it worthwhile to send a delegation. He said the time and money could better be spent in producing more literature on Guyana’s tourism product. He added that he was happy with the current advertising campaign in North America for the region saying it showed two nature scenes of Guyana and the country’s name appeared on the screen. This he had pushed for at a May meeting of the CTO board.

By generic brand, Astaphan was referring to both a focus of the CTO conference as well as the ongoing North American advertising campaign that is attempting to present the Caribbean as a single tourism destination.

He added that “the structure and role of the CTO and all other relationships need to be carefully reviewed”. Astaphan said, “sluggishness, lack of focus and direction, and a preoccupation with the Cancuns, Jamaicas, Bahamas, Puerto Ricos, DR’s and Barbados of this world are as much as we in the smaller destinations can expect if we continue to choose the option of allowing others to dictate our fate”.

This flew in the face of Bahamas Prime Minister, Perry Christie’s plea in his keynote address for regional cooperation at all levels of the tourism industry.

Christie said, in referring to the theme of the conference, ‘Reinventing Caribbean Tourism’ “there can be no reinvention of Caribbean tourism without the daily intent to co-operate”.

Outlining his perspective on reinvention of Caribbean tourism Perry stated, “our first task is to create the Caribbean...the Caribbean has great currency outside of the region but little currency within”.

As an example he pointed out, “that the exchange of tourism related information between (CTO) members outside of conferences is minimal and the level of spontaneous cooperation and coordination on tourism matters between states is nearly non-existent”.

This reinvention must include equalling or exceeding “the standards of environmental maintenance to which our customers are accustomed to at home”; better taxi services, infrastructure and garbage disposal; educating and sensitizing the people to the expectations of the visitor; top class tourism management and maximum cooperation between the public and private sector.

Touching on the tourism product, Christie said, “Tourism is not about the number of visitors we get relative to each other. It is not about the size and location of our overseas offices. It is not about how we feel about our advertising campaigns.”

“That is “ego-tourism”, which, by and large, has been the hallmark of tourism in our region for years.”

Prime Minister Christie also expressed the need for greater coordination and collaboration among the regional Caribbean airlines.

“We must find a way to lock the CEO’s of these carriers in a room and refuse to open the door until they have a plan that will reduce our losses and increase our services to and throughout the Caribbean. Maybe there is a black hole into which we can fly this entire hodgepodge of national and regional carriers and out of which will emerge the shining light of a single Air Caribbean.”

And CEO of BWIA, Conrad Aleong confirmed that moves are afoot to explore areas of cooperation among the regional airlines when he spoke to a number of journalists at the CTO conference.

“All the airlines agree that there should be collaboration,” said Aleong. “The problem is how to find the formula.”

Aleong asserted that now more than ever conditions make it necessary for the regional airlines to work towards some level of collaboration. He indicated that he had already spoken to his counterparts at Air Jamaica and Bahamasair and that they are already exploring immediate areas of cooperation such as sharing the same maintenance crews and space as well as the same counters and terminals.

But he cautioned that the issue of brand will continue to be a sticking point even though the tremendous financial difficulties that all regional carriers are operating under, means collaboration can no longer be avoided.

Meanwhile young Guyanese Shivgobin Jaikarran was notably absent from an awards ceremony as part of the My Caribbean essay contest sponsored by Conde Nast magazine. Jaikarran, who was the winner of the Guyana contest, could not get a visa to attend the presentation ceremony.

This explanation did not go down well with the audience, especially when it was announced that the Guyanese lad had also won second runner up regionally. His essay described the sights and sounds a tourist to Guyana might experience.