Political leaders in the Caribbean Diaspora have urged tourism officials in Barbados and the rest of the region to come up with a viable plan for post-COVID Caribbean tourism and development and approach them for assistance.
While insisting that this must be done in a collective way, political leaders of Caribbean heritage told an online Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) forum on Wednesday that it was also imperative that the region explore other areas for development beyond tourism.
New York Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, who is of Jamaican heritage, stressed that the region must build on existing relationships and agreements with more developed nations as it seeks to expand beyond tourism and attain “first world status”.
She said: “I think that there has been a benign neglect of the region and I have my theories why that has been the case. However, we are facing new times and new days here in Washington DC, and I think we need to take this time to explore and deepen those relationships now more than ever.”
Pointing out that the US and the Caribbean faced similar challenges including threats from climate change and the need to make greater use of renewable energy, Clarke said she was looking forward to doing what she could to help advance policies to help regional economies, which she described as “diamonds in the rough”.
Declaring “the sky is the limit”, Clarke suggested a platform for tourism organizations and regional leaders to share views on tourism and other areas which could then be presented to political leaders in the diaspora for help.
She urged officials to explore health tourism, pointing out that while the health care systems in some Caribbean islands were not “robust” the common thread was the therapeutic qualities of the countries themselves.
Clarke said: “They have the therapeutic environment. What people will be seeking after going through this traumatic experience is respite [and] a regaining of health and wellbeing. You can market that with reckless abound.
“And then you come to us with whatever that planning is and we have a discussion about how do we establish either legislatively, protocols that can facilitate it and how do we work with the private sector partners in the Caribbean region to make the investments.
“So first of all, it is important that as you engage you come with a plan and then ask of us and we shape that based on rules, regulations and laws that we have or that we may need to put in place.”
Sharing similar sentiments during the forum was Paulette Hamilton, a member of the Birmingham City Council in England, who said the Caribbean could build on existing relationships.
Hamilton, who is also of Jamaican heritage and has oversight for health and social care on the council’s quasi-cabinet, insisted “we can’t do it in isolation. The Caribbean has to start working as a bloc”.
“You have to become a single voice… The problem is that we have always done it in small bites,” she said, pointing out that there were a lot of “very powerful” political leaders in the UK that were willing to push for assistance for Caribbean tourism development.
“When you are looking at the issues affecting tourism go with the answer – what you want them to do is go on the journey with you of what you already know where you want to be,” she explained. She said that churches, civil society organizations, the public and the private sectors should all be responsible for putting together a comprehensive plan.
While praising the region for its handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hamilton said she was confident Caribbean tourism could rebound, adding that there were new opportunities for discussion with the UK now that it has left the European Union.
She said: “We have got to look at what is it we feel are the emerging industries we can really work with other nations to help forge a way in the Caribbean.
“We have a richness of opportunity, we have a richness of people, but sometimes we think we don’t have the answers.”
Haiti-born New York City Council member Mathieu Eugene encouraged Caribbean leaders to continue to keep the spread of the Coronavirus under control by keeping measures in place even when a vaccine becomes available.
“If we don’t do that, forget about the economy, forget about tourism, forget about everything.”
He urged Caribbean authorities to examine “what is our tourism in the Caribbean now with the COVID, what it was before, and what it is going to be after COVID”.
“We have to start taking up our resources to ensure that we maintain tourism in the Caribbean and to make sure we can attract people to come and spend the money to push the economy,” said Eugene, who said the region should also encourage the diaspora figures to become ambassadors for the Caribbean.