Tourism is the economic lifeblood of the Caribbean. BTN talks to the CHTA’s new President Josef Forstmayr about what governments across the region can do to mobilise the sector.
The new President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, Josef Forstmayr, has called for urgent action by all governments in region for a cooperative marketing fund and regional integration to remove barriers to intra-Caribbean travel. He also urged the citizens and governments of all Caribbean nations to recognize tourism as the number one industry for job creation in the region.
Forstmayr noted a recent speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron, highlighting how tourism is one of the best and fastest ways of generating the jobs, and that it is fundamental to the rebuilding and rebalancing of the economy.
Forstmayr said: “It is therefore crucial that our governments embrace the economic importance of the tourism industry as a major generator of jobs throughout the region.”
(Josef Forstmayr celebrates a Jamaican clean sweep at the World Travel Awards Caribbean Ceremony. Also pictured William Tatham, Vice President, The Port Authority of Jamaica, Jamaica; Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica and Graham Cooke, President & Founder, World Travel Awards, plus Miss Jamaica 2009)
The CHTA “Tourism is Key” ad campaign highlights several important facts, including how travel & tourism directly and indirectly employs more than 1.9 million people in the Caribbean (1 in every 9 jobs), and accounts for 12.8 percent of the Caribbean’s GBP – a high percentage than any other region in the world.
“We need to continue to remind our people that ‘tourism business means jobs’ not only in the hotels, but for the taxis, the restaurants, the farmers and fishermen that fill the restaurants with food,” Forstmayr added.
“It also means work for the seamstress, crafts people, shopkeepers and manufacturers, including all their workers plus the deliverymen as well as the trash collectors. In line with this, we need to improve regional linkages between our local agriculture industries and the hotel sector.”
(View of Jamaica’s Round Hill Bay, a classic Caribbean paradise destination)
“Here in the Caribbean, it is even more important. On a number of islands, travel and tourism accounts for more than 50 percent of all employment, and on some islands for more than 75 percent.”
“Overall, about 20 percent of all Caribbean employment is travel and tourism dependent – something on the order of 2.5 million jobs.”
Forstmayr also targeted the youth of the Caribbean noting: “We must ensure that they can participate in the ownership and economic benefits of the industry. Having good talent and highly motivated staff working with our guests is very important.”
He urged: “Every government should immediately undertake a full scale public education campaign in schools, at job sites and through community organizations. Every citizen needs to understand that, whether or not he or she works directly in the tourism areas, every tourist’s dollar brings economic and social benefits to every level of society.
“Part of this education must focus on how to facilitate the smooth movement of our visitors which begins with easy access and fewer visa restrictions between our countries. It is ludicrous to have visa regimes between CARICOM countries.
“We tend to speak of “integration” but at the same time we stand by and let our governments erect more barriers. Do NOT underestimate the potential for regional travel.
(Tourism is the number one industry for job creation in the Caribbean)
“It also means a more welcoming entry. We put ‘paper over people’ with lengthy and confusing immigration forms and long lines as we welcome our guests at our airports.”
He added: “I am also calling for our governments to adopt the need to make the welcome at our ports of entry, especially our airports, the BEST anywhere in the world. Shorter and simpler immigration and custom forms in several languages, quicker and friendlier processing of our visitors.
Forstmayr also touched on the very sensitive tax issues noting that: “Our hotels in the Caribbean are taxed beyond where we should be through direct and indirect taxes.
“We are one of the Caribbean’s primary exports, yet we are not seen by our own governments as such. In many cases, exports are encouraged, not taxed and burdened by high import duties, from food items to spirits and construction materials.
“Governments across the Caribbean must provide a more reasonable import duty policy for the refurbishment and renovation of existing hotels. This is mandatory if we are to remain competitive with the rest of the world.
One of the key challenges noted by Forstmayr is that: “We can create demand and have the rooms ready, but nobody is coming. It is not because we have not done the proper marketing and promotions. It is because there is limited or no airlift to bring these vacationers to our destinations.
(The beach at Round Hill Hotel & Villas where Forstmayr is Managing Director)
“The hoteliers are helpless in changing this situation. It is solely up to governments to negotiate air service agreements and to stimulate air travel to our destinations. I recommend the need for regional hubs and less protectionism for national carriers. We need MORE competition not LESS to ensure affordable air travel for visitors from within or outside of the Caribbean.”
“It also is the government’s national tourist boards that MUST be funding marketing and promotional efforts, including the much needed regional marketing campaign to draw attention to our region as the leading warm weather vacation destination in the Western hemisphere.
In one of his strongest statements of the evening, Forstmayr urged: “It is time that all our Caribbean governments and the entire private sector get off our collective butts and work together to get over this hurdle. We are ready for this and we are challenging our governments to join us at CHTA.”
Forstmayr concluded urging a strong call to action by the governments of the region and, in particular Jamaica with: “We need more regional integration, less visas, more airlift, less taxation and I urge once again, that our country, Jamaica takes the lead to establish funding for a regional marketing campaign. The time to act is now.”