Tourism officials, attending the annual Caribbean Week in New York, are seeking to attract more business from the United States and have enlisted the support of the region’s Diaspora.
Caribbean Week, which is organized by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, coincides with the observance of Caribbean American Heritage Month, which highlights the contributions made by West Indian immigrants to the development of the US.
“Most especially we’re talking about the contributions which Caribbean [people] have made to this great country, and we’re recognizing the fact that we need to make sure we stay engaged with the Caribbean Diaspora. Why? Because Caribbean people are the best sales people and the finest ambassadors for the region anywhere on the planet,” CTO Secretary General Hugh Riley said.
The British Virgin Islands is especially keen to explore business ventures, given that the territory is still recovering from the impact of category five hurricanes Irma and Maria last year.
Government spokesman Archibald Christian reported this week that the hurricanes destroyed almost all the hotels and the marine sector, and hotel owners “will be no doubt be shopping for investors and persons to do joint ventures”.
Government is also offering incentives to potential investors.
“One such programme . . . allows you to be exempt from customs duty on building materials, machinery equipment. Certain classes of workers would be exempt from payroll taxes up to a certain period.
“Businesses coming in to the territory for the first time will also benefit from those programmes, under an initiative called the pioneer status.
“We also have an officer in the Premier’s office who will fast track any applications for development in the islands, and we also encourage persons to joint venture with local BV Islanders,” Christian explained.
The BVI’s economy is based on the financial services sector, which accounts for 60 per cent of income, and the tourism industry, which is the main employer.
Christian noted that the majority of investors are from North America and Europe, but he would like to see more from the Caribbean.
“We are still trying to get Caribbean investors to invest in the Virgin Islands, and it’s something that I would personally like to see happen. We are small islands, we are close by, and we need to be able to invest more in our neighbours so that we can feel as if we are part of one Caribbean territory,” he said.
Dominica is another CTO member state that was devastated by Hurricane Maria.
That country’s tourism minister Robert Tonge believes the region as a whole needs to improve its service to visitors and investors if they want to attract new business.
“So we promote our island with these beautiful marketing plans. We try to improve access to our country, we have our sites. But really and truly, for me the most important thing is the customer the visitor having an amazing experience.
“And that has to be based on the most amazing customer service from all our service providers. From the taxi driver, the port officer, the customs officer, all these people can have a major [impact] when our visitors come to the various islands,” he said, adding there also needs to be more trainers from the Caribbean.
“I think it’s a very important area that is underserviced and I think that those who have the experience and the ability can put up programmes, and with the advent of technology, it doesn’t have to be in the class all the time, it can also be online.”
Jamaica, meanwhile, is looking to improve its visitor arrivals, which stood at 4.4 million last year.
Director of Tourism Donovan White described Jamaica as “an evolving destination” that needs to be diversified.
“We have to create a destination beyond the hotels. We have to be able to move tourism from the shores and the outskirts to the inside. We’ve begun the process of doing that in earnest . . . . We have to be able to create more opportunities for the Diaspora to be involved in,” White said.