Caribbean tourism will survive, and indeed thrive, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, an international tourism consultant has predicted – if countries heed a call for strategic planning by all the relevant authorities in the region.
Speaking on the Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s weekly podcast on tourism and COVID-19, US- based consultant Dr Peter Tarlow said the Caribbean already had several issues on its plate before the pandemic.
He said: “The Caribbean has been having issues with high prices, poor customer service and crime, so these issues combined with a health crisis creates a major crisis.
“On the other hand, the world crisis has two parts to it, danger and opportunities. We can use this as a period for the Caribbean to come back better and stronger than ever before, so we can either fall apart, or make our tourism a major leader in the world.”
Dr Tarlow said during the current “pause” in the tourism sector that Caribbean leaders should take the opportunity to “think through” national and regional plans for the next five to ten years.
He said: “I have been working with Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism as an adviser on tourism improvements. We have just completed a security audit and it will soon go public, understanding what is good and bad about major hotels in the region. I also wrote an ethics manual as security without ethics is meaningless.
“We have to educate the public about tourism, to remind them that every person in the Caribbean represents tourism.
“For example, if I ask for directions and someone smiles and pleasantly shows me where to go, that is a positive experience; if it is the opposite, then that does not paint a very good picture of the country.
“We have to have short, medium and long term plans, divided into things that will cost money and things that are cheaper or free.
“I would like to see tourism ministers and other senior leaders come together and look at what we have and areas in which we can create employment. Do we have a way of filling hotels so they don’t go under?
“We have to meet people at our ports of entry and let them know where doctors are, what languages we work in, and we need an advertising campaign to encourage people to come back – maybe not this week, but we are seeing some positive developments in our major source markets as they gradually reopen.
“We should be working on podcasts, broadcasts and videos to inform the public, making sure the cities are clean, using beautification, so people will see a reflowering and renaissance of Caribbean tourism when they return.”
He outlined some of the health and safety protocols visitors will want to see once they make their way back to the Caribbean.
Dr Barlow said: “Let’s get the Caribbean in the best shape possible so when this crisis ends, we can promote ourselves to the two major markets, namely the United States and Europe.
“Let us create a national programme for when the next crisis hits. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation needs to bring all players together, I am thinking short, medium and long term.
“We should have a “Come back, you know you love it” programme, as people will be itching to travel when this is over.
“We should consider special discounts and other incentives, and ensure the health care system and the quality of infrastructure will be able to deal with issues of this nature.
“Are we letting people know we are sanitising every day? That there are special shopping hours for people over 65? Do we have enough lifeguards? Are we making sure raw sewage isn’t going into the ocean? This is what we should be doing, so that when they return, people will say the Caribbean was good but now it is better than ever before.”