PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas – Barbados and other Caribbean tourist destinations are being challenged to transform the region into a global centre for tourism excellence that drives innovation in the industry.
Bahamas Prime Minister Dr Hubert Minnis has urged regional officials to explore “ground-breaking” ways to improve the tourism product, saying that he was confident Caribbean tourism would continue to be the leading engine for economic growth and development.
“We must broaden our Caribbean brand in tourism. Our region must be known for extraordinary visitor experiences and services. We must also be known as a global centre of excellence for all aspects of tourism development. In so many ways the potential of our region is untapped,” he said.
The Bahamian leader urged industry figures to ensure “greater retention of more tourism earnings within our region and a greater dispersion of wealth within our economies”.
He made the call on Tuesday night during the official opening ceremony of the State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) 2018 at the Atlantis hotel resort here.
“Tourism continues to evolve at a pace that requires us to constantly innovate in order to maintain market share and to meet the expectations of our visitors. We must keep pace with such innovation. But we must also be the drivers of global innovation,” said Minnis.
Highlighting employment opportunities within the industry, Minnis pointed out that travel and tourism was one of the largest and fastest growing sectors of the global economy, but questioned why the region was still falling behind despite a rich heritage and culture that could be better marketed.
“Why, then, has the Caribbean never really attracted many of the tourism-related businesses outside of our region which rely on our region for their profitability, why are we so narrowly focused on servicing our local visitors only instead of also focusing on providing tourism services to the wider world?” the prime minister queried.
Calling on the region to ensure “greater ownership” of tourism, the leader told the packed room of delegates, which included Minister of Tourism for Barbados Kerrie Symmonds and fellow regional ministers, that for far too long a brain drain has been allowed to sap the region.
“Would we not retain far more of our talent within our region if we engaged architects, engineers, accountants, artisans, attorneys, interior designers, energy specialists, new media communication specialists, software developers, and others in providing tourism services to countries and destinations across the wider world instead of focusing only on personal services in our own individual countries?” he said.
Insisting that the Caribbean should be more than a place to visit, Minnis said Caribbean leaders therefore had a two-fold mission to make the region a place for the rest of the world to also “relish and delight in”.
“We must ensure that we deliver the very best range of exceptional personal services to our own visitors. We must also become far more focused on providing global tourism services. In the short run, this might require our attracting to our region subsidiaries or units of some of the existing global travel companies,” he explained.
During the ceremony, which was dotted with cultural presentations from this northernmost CARICOM member nation, Minnis also called for “one of the core objectives” of the region to be to help create “economic benefits from tourism for micro- small- and medium-sized businesses”.
“This means greater diversification across various tourism platforms as well as greater linkages with other economic sectors,” he said.
“Let our region become a global centre where tourism talent will cluster to the benefit of the people of the Caribbean,” he added, while describing the Caribbean brand as one of the most powerful.