Tourism at centre stage
By Basil Springer

„By sharing cutting-edge research and best practice, Scotland will be well placed to increase the quality of visitor experience and achieve the national goal of growing tourism by 50% over the next decade” Statement made by Tourism Minister Frank McAveety last week at the recently concluded State of the Art II Conference at Strathclyde University in Glasgow.

What is the national strategic thinking for the tourism industries in the countries of the Caribbean?  Tourism is common to all Caribbean countries and is collectively the leading industry in the Caribbean.  Yet, it is easier for the West Indies Cricket Board to convince Caribbean Heads of Government to hold a Cricket summit (twice a year) than it is for the tourism industry to convince them to convene a tourism summit (once every ten years).  Is the glitz of World Cup 2007 so captivating as to obscure the potential for leveraging  the existing success in the Caribbean tourism industry in the interest of sustained poverty alleviation? 

As has been stated for Scotland, above, when will we get a commitment of the vision from Caribbean Heads that Œthe Caribbean will increase the quality of visitor experience and achieve the regional goal of growing tourism by 50% over the next decade‚?  When will the Caribbean social partners put this vision into action?
The stage was set last week in St. Lucia at CMEx VI, the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism, to discuss these issues and to look at opportunities and constraints in the Caribbean tourism sector.  Geoffrey Lipman, Special Advisor to the Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization; the Right Honourable Kenny Anthony, Prime Minister of St. Lucia; the Honourable Philip Pierre, St. Lucia‚s Minister of Tourism; Mrs. Berthia Parle, the newly elected President of the Caribbean Hotel Association; Dr. Jean Holder, the outgoing Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization;  Chairman of Air Jamaica and Sandals Resorts, Gordon "Butch" Stewart; and Mr. Lelei LeLaulu, President of Counterpart International (CPI) producer of CMEx a biannual event, were all issuing edicts to place Caribbean Tourism at Centre Stage.
Lipman stated that ŒThe countries of greatest need in the fight against poverty are also areas with massive tourism opportunity. They abound in culture, nature and tradition that tomorrow's tourists are seeking. Africa with its unique wildlife and wide open spaces, Central America with its ecotourism, the Indian Ocean with its pristine waters and the Caribbean with its rich history, tropical climate and magnificent beaches.  All developing countries have tourism export potential ˆ it is already one of the top sources of investment and foreign exchange‚.
ŒIn re-iterating the organization's commitment to the Caribbean, Lipman said Œthe organization would upgrade its trade and development support to the region and increase collaboration with regional institutions like the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel Association, as well as NGOs like Counterpart International and Conservation International‚.  
CHA President Berthia Parle lamented the absence of certain key members of the St. Lucian government at CMEX VI held at the Bay Gardens Hotel last weekend. The conference which featured representatives from BBC, USA Today and several top regional media houses had as its theme Exploring Tourism: Widening the boundaries of Caribbean Sustainability.

  Lelei Lelaulu said that he was pleased to see senior travel and tourism officials making it a priority to attend the regional exchange, which CPI launched partly to improve the quality of media coverage of sustainable tourism in the Caribbean. The meeting also seeks to increase the input of the media in the design of sustainable tourism policies, and to highlight the necessity of tourism to the economies of small island states.

Two of the other report from CMEX VI were:   (1) Diverse issues placed on the table during the symposium generated heated dialogue, as participants sought to unearth the major challenges and threats facing the industry and to propose viable solutions. Despite some divide on contentious issues, participants were single-minded in the view that, tourism remained, in some instances, the only means to stimulate regional growth and as a consequence should be placed on the top of the region's political agenda. In keeping with plans for the proposed CARICOM Single Market and Economy, tourism leaders also made a call for the Caribbean to be marketed as a single destination with a single image‚.  
(2) A concern was raised by young people at the Sunday session of CMEx which focused on The Future of Tourism: A Youth and NGO Perspective and featured motivational speaker Andria Hall, a former CNN news anchor.  At least two young people from different islands questioned the absence of the nations‚ leaders from the conference and the resulting effect if they do not show interest.   Although St Lucia‚s representative was not as articulate as her counterparts, the youngster from the George Charles Secondary School also brought another issue to the fore˜that of incorporating tourism into the school curriculum. She noted that tourism and its benefits are hardly mentioned at her school. If you learn about tourism at school, then you appreciate more what it brings to the country more.
Let us listen to the call and bring tourism at Centre Stage for the benefit of us all.

(Dr. Basil Springer GCM is Change-Engine Consultant, Caribbean Business Enterprise Trust Inc. (CBET) -