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2005-05-18 14:57:45

Caribbean Tourism Profiled

In the last four decades, the number of possible vacation destinations has grown spectacularly as a greater number of Caribbean islands have developed travel industries.

Today we are learning that Caribbean tourism officials have begun meeting in Barbados to try to increase investment in one of the region's key industries. The meeting coincides with the publication of a new report from the World Bank, which said that continued success in tourism was dependent on improving the investment climate in the region.

The conference, which is being coordinated by the inter-governmental Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), has attracted more than 400 delegates from within and beyond the Caribbean.

The CTO's director of finance, Luther Miller, told the opening ceremony that there was need for greater investment within the tourism sector to meet the growing demands of visitors to the region, which attracted a record 21.8 million tourists last year.

Despite smallness, dependency, vulnerability and any number of other weaknesses, some small island developing states have been fairly successful in their occupation of certain selected spaces in the global economy.

Of some note is information coming our way from the World Bank, where in its just published report on Caribbean economies, the point was made that Caribbean tourism was under increasing pressure from emerging markets in Central America and elsewhere.

The same report also observes that "An increasing demand in new product areas such as adventure and cultural tourism, eco-tourism and upscale resorts, provides an opportunity for the region to revitalize the mature tourism sector, borne out by the success of St. Lucia's Jazz Festival, Dominica's Creole Festival, and the increase in eco-tourists across the region," the report said.

It said success in these areas required Caribbean governments to improve the investment climate, including addressing rising crime in some countries, better managing and marketing of the sector, and improving destination and product quality.

While this is important, there are other issues that must be addressed if tourism is to continue to help build the region. The point is made that in order to sustain tourism and economic growth and development, augmentation of infrastructure, creation of new facilities and avenues to attract tourists is necessary.

Of note too is the fact that tourist arrivals to the Caribbean rose 7 percent in 2004, despite one of the worst hurricane seasons in history. The region also saw a 13 percent increase in cruise ship passengers.

Interestingly, it is also being reported that the tourism minister of Barbados, Noel Lynch, however warns against the wholesale importation of "very liberal" investment policy options brokered in other destinations.

He was of the view that they were not a panacea for improving the financial performance of the industry. Whether his reference was to The Bahamas was not made clear. What we do know however is that the competition for the all-important Yankee dollar is intense, and will get hotter in the years ahead.

This competition is a pan-Caribbean phenomenon.

Today we note and reiterate the point that high-volume mass tourism, where vacationers prepay travel packages on cruise ships or beach resorts, dominates the tourist industry in the Caribbean. In the last four decades, the number of possible vacation destinations has grown spectacularly as a greater number of islands have developed travel industries, and some have even created their own niches to attract particular types of visitors.

We are also quite aware that no country attracts more than 12 percent of the total 18 million Caribbean visitors to the top 10 destination countries in 2000. Northern tier islands, such as Puerto Rico and The Bahamas, have emerged to draw American travelers, while eastern tier islands lured more European and Canadian visitors, and southern tier islands attracted more Latin American visitors.

In the ultimate analysis, then, The Bahamas has its work cut out for it.

If it wants to remain ahead of the game, it will have to use all the resources it has at hand. Other countries like Cuba know what they have to do to keep the tourists coming and spending, and are doing it.

Editorial from: The Bahama Journal

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