Rethinking Caribbean Tourism

Last month there was a press release published on the website of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) about the state of the industry.  While the press release did mention that overall, the Caribbean welcomed an estimated 23.8 million tourists in 2011, or a 3.3 per cent rise over 2010, these numbers do not tell the full story.  The real engine of regional growth was in the Spanish speaking Caribbean which compensated for the continued decline in many English speaking destinations.

USA and UK source markets performed poorly.  With 23 countries reporting, the region experienced weak arrivals from the UK for the third straight year, mainly due to a weak economy and increases in the Air Passenger Duty (APD).  Total 2011 arrivals from the UK did increase modestly thanks to increases to Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Barbados, Montserrat and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.  But arrival levels were still below those of 2007 so the weak performance has been noticed for quite a few years now.  It is also clear that with the traditional source markets of the USA and the UK in economic decline, the need to diversify to particularly Asian markets is greater than before.

I was talking about these trends with my friend Ishwar Persad.  Ishwar is originally from Princes Town, a former national open scholarship winner and he has worked with destinations such as Trinidad, Tobago, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, and most recently Montserrat.  Actually, Ishwar recently ran the Mount Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania (4 hours, 39 minutes) in the process raising US$5,000 for education programmes in the country.  He is currently serving as a Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) volunteer in Tanzania, and for this, his sixth marathon, he was the team leader for a group of 20-plus Tanzanian and Kenyan based-VSO volunteers and staff, who participated in the full marathon, half marathon, and the 5K run/walk

Ishwar made four very important points which I believe are worth sharing here.  Firstly, there is just too much emphasis on numbers and numbers growth and not enough on what he termed, the “quality” of the tourists.  This would mean focusing on visitor spend, reducing leakages and creating more linkages with other sectors such as agriculture, entertainment, sports etc.

Secondly, there is a need for more research on the performance of the industry.  This would lead to more data driven decision making.  While many of the islands have excellent Tourism Master Plans, they remain dusty on shelves and rarely is there the political will or management drive to execute these plans.  Plans which are critical to ensuring the sustainability of the industry Federal Tax Singapore

Thirdly and quite controversial is Ishwar’s view that the Cruise Industry has bullied their way around the region. There are many regional commentators who argue that the net contribution of cruise to Caribbean economies is negligible.  They point to what they see as a foreign-based-oligopoly that dominates the ancillary services that support the industry with just local taxi drivers and other transport operators benefitting.  Ishwar believes that cruise has cannibalized the stay-over sector, which is still the bread and butter of the regional industry.  I agree that stay-over visitors provide the taxes, employment and linkages but I believe cruise does have an important role in a well-defined destination strategy.

Fourthly, the region needs to do a better job of enforcing more effective planning regulations when it comes to the building of tourism plants especially given the need for environmental sensitivity and sustainability.  The region is already prone to the effects of climate change which include sea level rises, destruction of reefs and the more frequent and intense hurricanes. USA Tax Singapore

To end on an upbeat note, the CTO press release reported that intra-regional traffic grew by three-and-a-half per cent over 2010.  But for those OECS countries for which the Caribbean remains the most important market, a 9.8 per cent drop in arrivals was noted.   Seems like Redjet, and Caribbean Airlines’ new ATRs have come at the right time.  To defend its position and grow, the Caribbean region would benefit from the ideas of bright young men like Ishwar Persad.  Ishwar just completed a 6-month lecturing stint at a Tourism College in Zanzibar for VSO, and will soon be taking up a one and a half year placement with the new campus of the National College of Tourism in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.  We wish him all the best.

My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country and I love my region.  Despite our current challenges, I continue to have the audacity of hope that we will all enjoy a brighter tomorrow.  Please note that the opinions expressed do not reflect the views of any organisation with which the writer is affiliated.  Read more on


  1. Hi Mike - your comment seems to have disappeared? Anyway, thanks for the feedback my friend. To give my views on the points you raised -
    * spend is the preferred term in an economics context
    * plant refers primarily to hotels but also supportive infrastructure such was drainage, sewage treatment, water supply, electricity, roads, recreation spaces etc
    * re barbados, i suggest contacting the BTA (b'dos tourism authority)

    all the best!


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