“It Is Sink or Swim For the Caribbean”

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Above: Martinique (CJ Photo)

By the Caribbean Journal staff

United States Virgin Islands Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty opened the State of the Industry Conference in Martinique Wednesday evening with a call for the Caribbean to take serious action to address the challenges facing the Caribbean tourism industry.

Nicholson-Doty, who is the current Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, said it was “time to get so uncomfortable that we are forced to address the challenges of the most tourism-dependent region in the world.”

“It is sink or swim for the Caribbean,” she said. “And the choice is in our hands.”

Nicholson-Doty, who took over as Chairman last year, succeeding St Kitts and Nevis Tourism Minister Ricky Skerritt, said her experience in the post had been a “baptism by fire.”

“We have faced many challenges – from slow growth, unpredictable airlift and onerous taxation – both external and internal – which impacts the cost of vacations to our region,” she said “And we have also lacked the political will to move our regional marketing program along fast enough to ensure we remain competitive as the most sought-after warm weather destination.”

She said that many governments had invested “significant resources” into improving the region’s public infrastructure, and that the continued help of private sector partners was needed to upgrade and enhance the Caribbean’s tourism product.

“Our competitors may not be able to match our destinations’ natural beauty, but many of them have the resources and the sheer will to make reaching our goals even more difficult,” she said.

On the marketing front, she said it was time to truly rally around a collective marketing strategy.

“‘One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean’” cannot be just a feel-good slogan or a tagline that we embrace when we meet a few times a year but it must be the strategic marketing reality of our region if we are to survive the aggressive marketing efforts of major destinations around the world,” she said.

In a particularly pointed speech, she called out what she saw as a Caribbean region that was “big on lyrics but slow on implementation.”

“In fact, Brand USA is leaps ahead of us, promoting a concept we initiated in the Caribbean — yes, they implemented a concept we have been discussing for more than a decade,” she said. “We have the proof, that when we’ve implemented a cohesive marketing program our visitor arrivals have increased. Unfortunately, we seem only to have the will to truly work together when there is a crisis.”

And doing so remains crucial for a region in which tourism “remains our primary economic earner,” she said.

“I talk not just about jobs and incomes earned from hotels and resorts, but the obvious linkages that we don’t talk about – to agriculture, construction, health, education and the financial services sector,” she said. “The global market is growing so rapidly that if we fall behind it is going to be so much more difficult and much more expensive, to catch up.”

It is time to “move beyond the talk,” she said. “And into serious action.”

The conference continues on Thursday.