As the leading entity in the regional tourism industry, the Caribbean Tourism Organization is navigating the path towards rebuilding the sector in the face of the unfavorable scenario created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an exclusive interview with TTC, its Acting Secretary General, Neil Walters, comments on the initiatives developed by the organization, the projections of the sector and other topics of interest that ratify the objective of positioning the Caribbean as the most desirable warm-climate destination during all year round, and make it a leader in sustainable tourism under the premise of One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean.
– Given the difficult situation facing the world tourism industry, what strategies has the organization designed to contribute to the recovery of tourism in the region?
From the onset of the crisis the CTO has been working closely with our member countries to help with planning and preparation to navigate the path towards rebuilding the regional tourism sector. We have partnered with international agencies such as the UNWTO, The Travel Foundation, The University of the West Indies, Euromonitor International, the WTTC, the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre, the Caribbean Public Health Agency and others to bring expertise that help our member countries with their preparation and capacity building. In addition, we have led a Caribbean Dreaming social media campaign and provided support to our members with their own promotion and marketing.
– What are the projections for the Caribbean tourism industry for the end of 2020 and 2021?
With CTO member countries reopening slowly for limited commercial traffic, we predict that tourist arrivals to the region will decrease between 50 per cent and 70 per cent this year. Cruise visits are expected to decline between 55 per cent and 60 per cent, conditioned on cruise restarting in November. However, a rebound in the industry is anticipated next year as consumer confidence rebuilds. The strength of this projected rebound has not yet been determined.
– Regarding the British market in the Caribbean, what are the preferred destinations for these visitors? How does this market usually behave?
The UK is the second largest source of tourists from Europe to the Caribbean. Between 2015 and 2019, tourist arrivals from the UK averaged 1.3 million per annum. By volume, the top 10 destinations (based on 2019 data) in descending are
- Dominican Republic
- Cancun (Mexico) (CTO estimate)
- Saint Lucia
- Antigua & Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- Trinidad & Tobago
- By dependence on the market, the top 5 destinations are
- Antigua & Barbuda
- Saint Lucia
- Vincent & the Grenadines
– 2020 has been declared Year of Rural Tourism and in its message for World Tourism Day, the CTO reaffirmed the importance of promoting this modality. What actions is this body carrying out to promote the development of rural tourism in the Caribbean?
Traditionally, much of Caribbean tourism has centred mainly along coastal areas and capital cities. The CTO has recognised the need for diversification of the tourism landscape to ensure that rural and marginalised communities acquire more tangible and direct benefits from tourism, and community-based tourism (CBT) is seen as a viable alternative to bridge the social and economic gap of local communities.
CTO has identified CBT as a regional tourism development strategy, which is further justified by the current shift in tourism demand drivers enabling the evolution of experiential niche tourism products including nature-based adventure tourism, indigenous tourism and health & wellness including traditional therapies.
Towards this end, CTO has partnered with the Compete Caribbean Partnership Facility, a regional institution strategically aligned with the addressing development challenges of productivity and innovation through private sector development. Over the past three years, efforts have focused on the development of tools and capacity-building to foster the development of CBT in CTO member countries, focussing on rural and indigenous communities. The successes include primary research of US based consumers to assess the demand for innovative tourism experiences and services that can be offered through CBT in the Caribbean. and the production of a suite of tools to guide tourism medium, small and micro economies on how to responsibly engage visitors as a strategy for sustainably monetising community assets. The CTO has also organised several workshops and training sessions to sensitise regional tourism stakeholders on the outcomes of the market research study and also to train on the use of the toolkit resources, while a number of other programmes are either ongoing or in the pipeline.
– Any other topic you want to address?
In the area of tourism product diversification, the CTO has also launched the Caribbean Heritage Trails: Routes of Roots programme which aims to increase the capacity of the CTO’s members to responsibly develop routes and trails that utilise the countries’ intrinsic cultural and natural heritage resources to provide cohesive heritage experiences. In so doing, this programme encourages the meaningful involvement of the heritage owners―including those in rural communities―in the tourism sector, and indicates how this can be achieved in a sustainable manner.
We must continually show gratitude to the people in rural areas for their tremendous role in the preservation and perpetuation of the customs, traditions and other cultural expressions which personify the uniqueness of the Caribbean, and which amplify the region’s appeal as a destination. This programme serves as a platform to highlight the importance of this contribution and encourage their telling of their own stories in the tourism space.