Will it be smooth sailing for the Caribbean cruise lines and the hotel sector now they all seem to have kissed and made up? The new sweetness and light follows a recent landmark agreement between the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and the Florida Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), who have joined forces to cooperate, they say, in the best interests of Caribbean tourism.
Following contentious battles between the hotel and cruise sector, including charges of environmental pollution, the lack of Caribbean nationals employed on mega ships, the cruise industry’s perceived practice of “divide and rule” and the FCCA’s recent rejection of a proposed US$20 cruise passenger tax, the threesome has agreed to establish a Caribbean Tourism Facilitation Committee whose purpose is to resolve contentious issues before they escalate into public controversy.
On the agenda for the new body are issues such as converting cruise ship passengers into stay-over visitors; exploring a system of joint purchasing of provisions; developing new joint regional marketing initiatives; and the creation of a Regional Sustainable Tourism Development Fund.
While some analysts have expressed skepticism about this three-way pact, tourism partners were publicly upbeat following years of talks about a joint approach to bridging the divide. “This collective effort is a true milestone in the development of the Caribbean tourism industry,” said CHA President Simón Suárez. “The possibilities of what our three organizations can achieve together are endless.”
“The FCCA’s mandate has well established its work in partnership with the private and public sectors of the Caribbean. Therefore, this initiative is long overdue,” added Michelle Paige, President of FCCA. “The agreement .... is historic in Caribbean tourism relations,” stated Jean Holder, CTO Secretary General. “The power of these three organizations working together has the potential to revolutionize Caribbean tourism in the best interest of Caribbean people.”
But Canadian Ross Klein, Associate Professor of Memorial University in Newfoundland, an acerbic student of the cruise industry, does not share their optimism, although admitting he would like to be enthusiastic: “The announced tripartite committee for cooperation ... is on the surface a positive sign. It is encouraging to see the FCCA’s willingness to work with Caribbean-based organizations. However the partnership’s success depends on the FCCA listening and responding sensitively to concerns from the CTO and CHA. Partnerships require mutual respect and don’t work when a party is unwilling to deal sincerely with issues of concern to local people.”
He said he is encouraged to see FCCA shift from its past paternalistic stance to one that is based on equal partnership. “I hope that this reflects greater willingness to listen and to respond sensitively to islanders’ concerns,” he emphasized.
According to their joint communiqué, the three organizations agree to undertake joint research and to share research information and customer satisfaction surveys, along with other data relevant to improving the Caribbean’s tourism products and services, and to work with Caribbean countries and suppliers to upgrade the product and enhance the quality of the tourism experience. In addition, the organizations will collaborate in a number of current and new programs such as preparations for the 2007 Cricket World Cup; service quality; information technology; trade in tourism services negotiations; Caribbean environmental programs and joint representation on delegations to CARICOM meetings.