Havana.- Countries in the Caribbean region need to develop their unique features and diversify products in order to attract tourists, according to a Cuban tourism expert.
“There are 24 destinations competing with the same products (in the region) … the same international hotel chains and tour operators, and the same airlines and cruise companies,” economist Jose Luis Perello said here at the eighth Seminar on Journalism and Tourism.
The professor at the University of Havana said that countries in the region should diversify their tourism offerings by drawing on their unique histories and heritage.
Cuba, for example, is currently renovating its 500-year-old heritage cities and their historical centers to boost tourism, he said.
Meanwhile, it is important to protect the historical sites from over-development. Perello said countries should bear in mind what the industry calls “tourism carrying capacity,” or the number of tourists each country can accommodate in keeping with its population, hotel capacity and other factors.
“Some countries in the region are reaching these limits and others are already exceeding their capacities in some of these parameters,” Perello said.
The principles of sustainable tourism can be applied in every country, he said, and even applicable to mass tourism.
“A process is sustainable when it develops the ability to achieve sustained economic profits over time, while protecting the environment and raising people’s quality of life,” the professor said.
One of the biggest threats faced by the Caribbean islands is climate change, which requires these countries to take action to avoid the negative impacts and costly damages to infrastructure and coastlines, Perello said.
According to official figures, tourism generates one out of five jobs in the Caribbean region and contributes significantly to its annual gross domestic product.
The expert pointed out that the tourism industry remains largely under the control of foreign multinational corporations, tour operators, hotel chains, cruise lines and airlines.
As the most tourism-dependent region in the world, the Caribbean needs to spur other economic sectors, from industrial production to advanced technologies.
The Caribbean has set a record in the arrivals of international visitors, receiving about 30 million people a year, according to official statistics.
The United States, the main tourist market for the region, has doubled its presence, going from 4.5 million tourists about two decades ago to 8 million tourists last year.
This year, the Caribbean hopes to become a “sustainable tourism zone,” in keeping with an action plan approved by regional heads of state and government at the 7th Summit of the Association of Caribbean States, which was held here in 2016.