Below is the second part of a two-part commentary, continued from last week.
Some of the tourism solutions Jamaica Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett and others have proposed recently have been well trailed in the media: the need to develop further intraregional multi-destination tourism as is the case in Central America; the harmonisation and development of single-visa schemes to ease pan-Caribbean travel, especially by visitors from new markets; the creation of regional marketing, product development and investment strategies; joint airlift agreements; and much improved linkages between regionally and internationally based airlines as part of a strategy to boost tourist arrivals.
But much less commented on has been his view — also expressed separately by his counterpart in Barbados, Lisa Cummins, and Cuba Prime Minister Manuel Marrero, a former tourism minister — that the future fortunes of Caribbean tourism lie in economic convergence between complementary economies: in other words, the construction of a new tourism architecture that better integrates the industry and its offering in the northwestern and southeastern Caribbean and their subsets. This, they believe, could result in collaborative strategies to jointly develop product offerings attractive to new markets, enable economies of scale, and see the pooling of resources to achieve common goals, knowledge sharing, and skills transfer.
There are already signs of real progress in relation to new markets. A development agreement signed in May between Jamaica and Saudi Arabia is likely to be followed by one with Barbados. Both, it is hoped, will bring new airlift able to open visitor markets in the Gulf, the Far East and Africa — as well as new investment.
Another intention that could revolutionise Caribbean tourism if delivered regionally is a policy that could see all workers in the sector being able to share in the industry’s success.
Expanding on comments made in a recent speech at a Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association conference in Puerto Rico, Mr. Bartlett suggests that industry workers must “remain at the core of tourism’s recovery and future growth” and have “tenure, mobility and portability.” To achieve this, he believes that tourism must professionalise, build human capital, and offer permanent employment. Central to this, he says, should be the linking of employees’ wages to the United States dollar, the currency in which most hotels transact business. This idea is currently under review in Jamaica.
He is also promoting internationally the view that the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Secretariat should be playing a much greater role in tourism development as a force for integration between Commonwealth countries. In a little-noticed but thought-provoking speech delivered in Rwanda when Commonwealth heads met in June, he suggested that a much stronger Commonwealth focus on the sector could see the global grouping recalibrate their economic relationship and encourage convergence.
The Caribbean Tourism Organisation’s Ministerial Council has asked ministers Cummins and Bartlett to recommend a work plan that identifies how many of these ideas might be delivered. According to the body’s new chair, Cayman Islands Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan, the two ministers will present a plan by January that could lead to a new sustainable growth agenda for tourism.
Speaking recently about this in Barbados, Ms. Cummins made clear that a far more comprehensive approach to tourism is needed to help grow and sustain the industry. She, like Mr. Bartlett, sees tourism development as requiring a whole-of-government policy.
The opportunity now exists, perhaps for the first time, for tourism to be led by Caribbean-centric economic thinking. A new regional agenda for tourism would be a welcome step towards future-proofing what has become the region’s primary industry.
Mr. Jessop, a consultant to the London-based Caribbean Council, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.