Engaging tourism talent
By Ryan Peterson
As we celebrate World Tourism Day this week, for many in the Caribbean, every day is tourism day. It is a truism that tourism is part and parcel of our Caribbean island realities. More than simply an industry, tourism is (historically) infused within the socio-ecological fabric of our Caribbean islandness.
By almost any benchmark and (relative) measure, the Caribbean is the most tourism-intense region in the world, contributing to at least one third of GDP, and well over US$30 billion to our small-island tourism economies. With over two million people employed (directly and indirectly) across the Caribbean, impacting well over three million livelihoods in the next decade, engaging a new generation of tourism will be imperative to transforming sustainable Caribbean futures. The recent call by the CTO for more tourism prominence is thus acute, particularly as tourism’s (relative) productivity and sustainability have declined over the past decade.
Beyond our beautiful beaches and buoyant islandscapes, tourism’s reach is much deeper, and stretches into the desires and dreams of both visitors and islanders. Beyond the surface of (macro-) economic contributions, we venture into (micro-) socio-psychological depths of experience and engagement.
In effect, as a new generation of travelers increasingly seek deeper experiential value, and explore new platforms (e.g., social media) and possibilities (e.g., Airbnb) of discovering our “islandness,” a new generation of tourism professionals is likewise emerging, creating all sorts of new ‘experiential’, employment, and engagement opportunities (and challenges I should add, especially for traditional establishments).
The convergence of these new social, digital and experiential generational trends across the Caribbean is set to disrupt conventional tourism. Unsurprisingly, a new generation of travellers and tourism professionals share similar desires and dreams: a passion for exploring, engaging and creating authentic, personally inspiring experiences.
Recent insights into the values of a new generation of tourism professionals reveals that creativity, freedom, ambition, in addition to equal rights, respect, and responsibility are perceived as most important, with interestingly enough, no distinction between work and life. In general, young(er) Caribbean professionals indicate that freedom to explore and express themselves (91 percent), achieving success and realizing professional goals (90 percent), and equal rights and respect at work (88 percent) are core principles.
While financial compensation, stability and routine may have been sufficient for previous generations, this new generation of talents is more likely to respond and rise to opportunities for professional development (77 percent) and a stimulating organizational atmosphere (72 percent), in which their wits are challenged (69 percent) with respect and flexibility (64 percent). More than money and position, this generation responds to meaning and purpose, in which work is part of life, and not the other way around.
If we are to transform Caribbean futures and achieve the global (sustainable development) goals for the wellbeing of our islands and future generations, then we must embrace and engage the talents of this generation.”
However, less than 40 percent is satisfied to very satisfied, with females indicating higher rates of dissatisfaction. The engagement gap for professional development, stimulating work environment and challenging opportunities is critical, as on average, only one in four young professionals indicate that their opinions count at work, or that they have opportunities to learn and grow. It should thus me no surprise that one third of this new generation intends to switch jobs within a year, especially as they do not experience a strong sense of connection and belonging at work.
If tourism is to be put more prominently on the Caribbean agenda, equity and equality – beyond simply economy or GDP – need to be squarely addressed and resolved. Managing a new generation of tourism professionals is much less about ‘money’. Engaging talents for Caribbean tourism is a matter of ‘meaning’ and inclusions. If we are to transform Caribbean futures and achieve the global (sustainable development) goals for the wellbeing of our islands and future generations, then we must embrace and engage the talents of this generation. Beyond one billion opportunities, we need equal opportunities. Carpe diem Caribbean!
Ryan R. Peterson, PhD is Professor of Innovation & Sustainable Islands at the University of Aruba, and policy advisor on sustainable innovation in small states. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @ryro_peterson.