Resilience has joined sustainability as the newest buzzword in tourism circles and the point is often made that Caribbean countries have a much better chance of recovering from any disruption if they work together.
“If we can forget, for a minute, the wonderful values of sovereignty and individualism as it relates to national and nationalistic approaches, and can decide that together we can do much more than we can do singly, I think we will be able to overcome this,” Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett tells the Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
He’s speaking within the context of the need for a strong regional airline and multi-destination tourism, elements the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) has listed as vital to boosting the Caribbean’s tourist arrivals so the region can thrive in a post-pandemic world.
According to the UNWTO, there is need — as part of a broad-based strategy — for regional governments to explore incentives and strategies to strengthen regional airline carriers; enhance intra-regional travel; and, through joint airlift agreements, increase linkages between regional- and international-based airlines.
However, as Bartlett alludes, for a region whose members pride themselves on charting their own course, that may take some doing.
“There is going to be the need for the harmonisation of a number of protocols, some of which will impact on nationalism, or the nationalistic position that several of us have. So it’s all about how do we, together, do it? How do we create the possibility for a single visa, for example, that allows access to the region and preclearance arrangements at port of entry, and even a single airspace that allows for airlines to come into our air and not having to pay five and six different fees for each different territory that they go to,” he notes.
The minister’s goal is to welcome mega airlines carrying visitors from far away who will stay much longer, moving seamlessly from one Caribbean island to the next. The aircraft will remain in one destination used as a hub.
“A lot of this will depend on the political will of the leaders of the Caribbean; and if we can find common recourse to collaboration rather than to operate as single units,” stresses Bartlett.
He’s also keenly aware of the role private sector enterprises will have to play in crafting irresistible vacation packages that are competitively priced to make the region, as a whole, more competitive.
This, Bartlett says, will include looking at what investors have to offer “in terms of bringing in new products into the area, and also what the capital market of the region is doing in terms of providing investment funds. So it’s a very important and fulsome engagement that is going to be necessary to make this multi-destination strategy work,” he says.
The good news is the novel coronavirus pandemic has shown the value of working together.
“The tourism industry has never been more united than in the pandemic. And we’ve done so many things together,” says Bartlett.
The hope is that this collaboration continues post-pandemic.
There are hopeful signs.
Government agencies, tourism boards, and private companies from seven countries in Central America have launched a joint partnership to promote multi-destination travel in the region, offering travel packages at special rates. Eight packages are being promoted. Tours include destinations in two, three, or even all seven countries. Options include eco-tourism in Costa Rica, culture in Guatemala, and beach destinations along the Caribbean coastline in Honduras.
Jamaica currently has multi-destination arrangements with the government of Cuba, the Dominica Republic, and Panama, and another is in the pipeline.