MIAMI, Florida – As the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues to impact global tourism, top Caribbean private sector tourism leaders are asserting that tourism is the region’s best hope for recovery and renewal and that the successful revival of the sector relies on its ability to enhance its strengths while simultaneously reshaping itself to adapt to a changing global environment.
During recent presentations to travel and tourism stakeholders, Pablo Jose Torres Sojo, the recently appointed president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and Frank Comito, CEO and Director General of CHTA, expressed the association’s confidence that tourism will once again display its resilience and help lead the region to recovery.
Torres observed that “while the tourism industry and economies are challenged in unprecedented ways, the Caribbean tourism industry is not a stranger to crises, and there is every reason to believe that it will continue to show its resilience and it will rebound.”
In an address to the Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) last month, Torres reported that COVID-19 is accelerating changes in customer behaviors that are forcing tourism-related businesses to adapt to a new reality. In addition to the all-important strengthening of health and safety protocols which are well underway throughout the Caribbean, the training of industry professionals in new technologies and reinforcing the region’s noted culture of hospitality are needed to move the region on the road to recovery.
Torres noted that the region’s natural beauty, its proximity to North American markets, its brand awareness, the natural welcoming nature of its people and its allure as a wellness destination, are just a few of the Caribbean’s most enduring charms. The visitor industry, the region’s most important economic driver, he added, boosts small business revenues and drives large infrastructural and human resources development.
Participating in the recent Association of Caribbean States (ACS) Business Forum of the Greater Caribbean, Comito addressed the imperative of health and safety in a COVID-19 environment, adding that communicating priorities quickly and clearly to markets and to the region’s tourism stakeholders was key to a dynamic and sustainable recovery.
While tourism presents the Caribbean’s greatest opportunity to recover and renew, Comito pointed to opportunities for diversification not away from – but within – the sector, particularly by strengthening economic linkages to tourism to guide the region’s re-shaping. He also asserted tourism leaders and stakeholders must address the region’s challenges such as its vulnerability to economic downturns; climatic, political, and public health crises; managing growth, affordable airlift and rising costs; revenue leakage; competition from other markets; insufficient public-private partnerships; the need to increase support for local entrepreneurs and small businesses; and the balance between foreign and local ownership.
Both leaders pointed to the considerable investments made by Caribbean countries and territories to implement and strengthen health and safety initiatives, supported by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the public sector throughout the region, as key factors to accelerating the recovery of tourism and the economies of the region.
Torres and Comito cautioned that tourism’s recovery must be accelerated without compromising environmental diversity, sacrificing the progress made towards promoting sustainable development, or diluting the cultural identity of the Caribbean. As visitor needs and behaviors continue to change, hotels, tour operators, activities, dining establishments, marine attractions and allied businesses must also adapt by training and empowering staff to accentuate and differentiate Caribbean hospitality, culture, identity and diversity.
Moving forward, the CHTA leaders will continue to encourage the association’s members to actively seek, pursue and develop opportunities for collaboration that will allow the Caribbean to play to its considerable strengths.