Dr. Jean Holder`s, (pictured), the Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, today welcomed guests to the Seventh Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference, with his speech outlining future objectives for the Caribbean Tourism industry, suggesting a more holistic focus to the issue of investment and a need to modernize systems, in the context of a world driven by information technology.
As the attention of the world is rivetted to the television images of the fierce conflict in Iraq, and as our hearts are burdened for all those who suffer and die in that country, we appreciate more than ever the luxury of being in the warm embrace of the beautiful country of Bermuda, which offers us and a very select clientele of vacation visitors, a safe haven of peace and tranquillity at this time. We are deeply grateful to the government and people of Bermuda for extending us such gracious hospitality and look forward with anticipation to the events planned in what promises to be a practical and useful programme.
We extol the commitment of all you delegates who were not deterred from attending this conference in spite of the credible reasons that might have been extended in explanation of your absence. We tourism and travel practitioners, above all others, must set an example to the rest of the world that travel is one of the best expressions of freedom and that apart from its implications for our own business, the health of the entire world economy rest on the pre-supposition that people and goods can move freely around the world.
A number of you would have been present 7 years ago when this important conference, largely through the initiative of my private sector colleague , John Bell of CHA, was launched in the Bahamas. Both CHA and CTO were concerned about the fact that the Caribbean seemed to be attracting less than its fair share of investment in tourism, in a region overwhelmingly dependent on that industry, and with a product that was in need both of refurbishment of old properties and creation of new and high quality accommodation and that in many ways was deficient in the supporting infrastructure for a modern industry.
We therefore set some clear objectives for imposing yet another conference on those who make decisions about tourism development in our countries. We hoped to stimulate an increase of the flow of capital investment into Caribbean tourism infrastructure and superstructure and all its related amenities and facilities, at a time when the world’s appetite for investment was enormous, resources were dwindling and acceptable levels of profit had to be guaranteed. We sought therefore to create a forum in which all the relevant players, governmental, institutional, commercial and entrepreneurial could meet on our very doorstep, to state unequivocally, what were the necessary and sufficient conditions for attracting, increasing and maintaining investment in the tourism sector, to determine how investment friendly the Caribbean really was, and what was to be done to create a suitable investment climate.
Seven years is probably a sufficiently long period of time to assess whether or not we have achieved our major objectives and the extent to which we have been able to change the paradigm.
Certainly, as far as the conference itself is concerned, its sustainability and its ability to attract high level delegates and quality speakers who are not normally profligate of their time, is one indicator of success. We have seen the conference graduate from a largely information and networking forum, to one in which a significant time is allocated to the real business of deal making and I think we must express our appreciation for the guidance of Mr. James Burba and his team who bring to the process an international experience in the organization of investment conferences.
Where however do we go from here?
Seven years ago the major criticisms of our investment climate were:
— that, most of our government systems and mechanisms were too bureaucratic and tied up in red tape
—that our investment incentives were neither sufficiently strategic nor transparent.
— that the institutional arrangements available in our countries to support the needs of the small tourism entrepreneurs who were more likely than not, to be indigenous, were inadequate.
We need you financiers, developers and bankers present to mark our card, as it were, and to let us know frankly what progress, if any , has been made and what remains to be done.
We also need, perhaps, from here on, to introduce some mechanism, by which we can measure and demonstrate what investment business can be attributed to our efforts at these meetings, since this would both reinforce the commitment of those already loyal to the cause and help to recruit new converts to the faith.
It is not intended to be any kind of criticism when I say that we have expended a great deal of our time on the accommodation sector. This is after all at the very core of our business and deserves our attention.
I would suggest however that the times in which we live indicate that we now take new guard and bring a more holistic focus to the entire issue of investment.
We have always said that tourism is our very life blood and that we are four times more dependent on it than any other part of the world. Given the realities in the world about the challenges to our export agriculture, our manufacturing industries, (for those who have any) and our financial services, this dependence on tourism is likely to increase. Our survival will therefore depend on our ability to make critical investments in a wide range of aspects of our industry.
During the past five years particularly, our destinations have been engaged in a fierce battle for market share globally and there is some evidence that the product offerings of new and old competitors indicate a great deal of investment not only in accommodation, but in the development of both man- made and natural attractions in response to the changing demands of consumers. This is to be expected in a world in which the consumer is looking more and more for things to do and to be educated, entertained and spiritually uplifted. We need therefore to place more emphasis than we currently do on investment in product outside of the hotels and in future conferences this new emphasis should be apparent.
Without air access we who live on islands are prisoners in our own countries and we are unable to serve the customers who support our economies. We find ourselves now at the mercy of foreign and regional carriers either on the brink of bankruptcy or actually speaking of liquidation. The resources must be found to keep planes in the air. We are at the mercy of a consolidated and changing Distribution System that tightens its grip on the decision making process of filling our rooms. We seem largely excluded from this process. We all need to modernize our systems, structures and human resource cadres, in the context of a world driven by information technology. We need to be able to negotiate our way in a new global environment where tourism will be at the forefront of the liberalization of services. All of these things will call for new and increased resources.
Our Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference must now show its relevance to these new circumstances. You understand now my reluctance to remove the word tourism from our name. We need to bring together those who are willing and able to address our needs in the context of these new realities. We must be the Forum to which the entire Caribbean looks for the answers to these critical questions about where these resources are to be found.