When we come together and market the Caribbean brand, every member country benefits: Hugh Riley.Listen /
Caribbean tourism practitioners, policy makers and strategic partners, at the highest levels met in Martinique in mid-October to discuss issues, identify solutions and generally develop courses of action that will benefit the tourism industry in the Caribbean.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) State of the Industry Conference is an annual convocation where speakers of international acclaim provide best case practices and winning strategies on a wide range of topics that are critical to the growth of regional tourism, all with a view to positioning the Caribbean as the most desirable, year-round warm weather destination.
Hugh Riley is Secretary-General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. He first told me how he felt the conference went.
Riley: Well, I thought it went extremely well. To have a conference of just over 300 delegates in Martinique is not a usual thing for Martinique so it was a tremendous feat that Commissioner Karine Roy-Camille and he team were able to pull this off with such aplomb and with such elegance. So it was extremely exciting and in terms of the business part of the conference, that was very satisfying indeed.
Donn: The World Tourism Organization has just put out some figures showing that there's been heavy growth in some are and the Americas which includes the Caribbean a-basically held steady at 3 percent. What can be done to increase those numbers?
Riley: Well I think one of the things the Caribbean region needs to do is to come together as one and pool our resources and market our destination- Caribbean destination more effectively. We need to remember that when we have done this twice in recent years, the results were extremely encouraging. The facts are there. When we come together and market the Caribbean brand, every member country who participates benefits. The last time we did this, which was right after the crisis of 9-11, business went up around 11 per cent and everyone realised there is a benefit in pooling resources – you see –individually, none of us has the size of a budget to be powerful enough to make the kind of noise to make the kind of impact out there in the competitive market place, but once we pool our resources, we see the results. That's what we must do.
Donn: This Martinique meeting – Is it a start towards pooling resources together?
Riley: Well it's a continuation of the effort…. The Caribbean Tourism Development Company CTDC which is half-owned by the CTO and the CHTA has been at this for a while now. So individual member countries are doing what they must do. There's no question about that so, progress is being made but it is spotty, it is inconsistent. What we really need to do is to have a reliable, consistent, sustainable fund such as our competitors are doing to market themselves as destinations, we, in the Caribbean must do the same.
Donn: We seem to be in the lead in terms of the sustainability of the tourism product –protecting our beaches, natural resources and all, how far will this go in attracting visitors who want to see sustainable development.
Riley: Well sustainable development is an interesting thing. Gone are the days now where we just see sustainability as one or two elements. Pretty much now, it comes together that anything that affects the future of the assets that we have – really affects the sustainability of our livelihoods, so climate change and protection and preservation of the environment still though form the nucleus of that effort. People from around the world are starting to look for destinations that are paying attention to preservation of the environment so there's 'green in green' – there's money in green and responsible tourism is really what we should be focusing on and we are here in the Caribbean.
Donn: You've been at this for quite a number of years: What does the future of tourism in the region look like at this time?
Riley: Well this is our future. There's no question. There's a long discussion going on in many places about diversifying the Caribbean economies, finding alternative sources of foreign exchange and I think that's fine but what we have now and what the rest of the world has jumped on board to get a piece of is this very lucrative, very resilient, very exciting tourism pie. People all over the world are really declaring by their actions that they feel they have a right to travel and we in the Caribbean are a magnet for attracting people who feel they have a right to travel. We have the resources, in terms of the human resources; we have the natural resources in terms of the beauty, we have the tranquility and peace and stability to attract them. We need to do some other things – as we said earlier – we need to be able to market ourselves effectively and clearly we have to fix the business of accessibility – air service is still an issue which always require our attention.