Friday, October 9, 2015
Friday, October 9, 2015
The final General Session at the Caribbean Hospitality Industry Exchange Forum (CHIEF) in Puerto Rico last weekend addressed Cuba and its impact on tourism in the region. The general consensus appeared to be cautious optimism based on expectations of diversion of visitors from other countries, but overall a chance to highlight the diversity of the culture of the region. There was also concurrence that the entire Caribbean can shine as the spotlight falls on Cuba, exposing more potential travellers to the rich diversity and culture of the region.
CHIEF was organized by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA).
Cuba continued to be the focus of many conversations as the US moves forward with the opening of relations which will eventually enable US citizens to vacation there. There has been much speculation of what the impact on neighbouring countries.
Simon Suarez, president of ASONAHORES (the Dominican Republic hotel association), said: “We have been very vocal calling for the end of the embargo on Cuba and we expect the government of Cuba to become a viable partner in the tourism industry. We have been competing with Cuba in every other market except the United States for the past 30 years. However, the pie needs to be made larger.”
Hugh Riley, secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), noted that “some people believe that the change is an opportunity. Will this magnet suck away visitors from others or will this magnet draw additional visitors. An optimist like me sees this as an opportunity to increase the slice of the pie.”
Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, principal partner, Bedford Baker Group, said: “Those countries relying on the US as their primary market are going to have to pay close attention. Cuba will get a lot of news coverage when it opens up its doors to US visitors.”
Vanderpool-Wallace added: “A result is that destinations will have to diversify source markets, which will ultimately make the Caribbean stronger. And I suspect that other countries will pay more attention to promoting culture as a focus for visitor experiences.”
A more cautious note was offered by Marla Dukharan, Group Economist, Caribbean Banking, Royal Bank of Canada, saying: “With occupancy levels of just over 55 per cent, Cuba could accommodate nearly twice as many visitors.” She also warned that fewer US dollars would flow into other countries and there will also be tax incentives offered to developers.
Riley suggested that “the Cuban situation has forced other countries to look into their own incentives to bring new business to their destinations.”
The session was moderated by Anton Edmunds, Principal, The Edmunds Group International. “The efforts towards the normalization of trade and travel between the United States and Cuba opens the door to a renewed focus on Caribbean tourism,” said Edmunds. “Whether this presents an opportunity or a threat depends in large measure upon the region’s stakeholders,” he added.
There is a consensus within CHTA and the region’s private sector that the Caribbean must do a better job at embracing tourism as its primary economic development and employment generation tool and a means to reduce the mounting debt of many jurisdictions.