The head of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) is suggesting that Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are not taking tourism seriously enough.
Speaking this morning at a press conference at the organization’s Baobab Tower, Warrens, St Michal headquarters where the CTO delivered the Caribbean Tourism Performance Report 2017, Secretary General Hugh Riley complained that tourism was being treated as a “casual pursuit” not as the serious enterprise that it is.
Riley reminded the authorities that tourism employs 13.7 per cent of Caribbean people and contributes between seven and 80 per cent to gross domestic product (GDP).
Yet, he said, it did not get the necessary attention to have it realize its full potential.
“Tourism is a business that delivers foreign exchange every time a plane lands or a cruise ship docks. It reduces unemployment and delivers massive amounts of tax dollars to our national treasuries. Therefore, we should worry when we are not using this job-creating, tax-generating, foreign exchange earning machine to its full potential,” the Barbadian tourism professional said.
The regional tourism development agency reported that despite the two category five hurricanes that devastated parts of the Caribbean last September, the region recorded 1.7 per cent increase in arrivals in 2017 to reach 30 million visitors for the first time ever.
In addition, the CTO said, tourism spend jumped by 2.6 per cent to reach a record US$37 billion in revenue.
Riley said despite the record performance, it was not time to jump for joy because there was a lot of work left to be done.
“Is our work done? Not by a long way. The Caribbean as a highly competitive tourism product has quite some distance to go in order to realize our full potential. We should worry when the rate of occupancy across the region is still below 70 per cent which means, of every 100 rooms available in the Caribbean, 30 are going empty every night.”
The CTO Secretary General said the region therefore has a responsibility to market itself more effectively to improve the quality of service substantially, to enhance the value of the product and to fill the empty rooms and to stop other destinations from “stealing our market share” by getting bigger occupancy rates.
“Until we do those things we are not capitalizing on the substantial investment we have already made in building the plant in the first place, and we are leaving ourselves vulnerable for further erosion of our competitive position,” Riley stated.
“To be clear, we are thankful for the results which the region achieved for 2017 . . . we have to celebrate our victories and we do. But unfortunately there are bigger celebrations occurring in the places that are stealing our market share. Their unemployment rates are falling, their economies are growing, their tourism product gets considerable visibility and we must grow to that point too,” he said.