For far too long the Caribbean has taken tourism for granted according to a white paper issued by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association entitled Cuba: The Great Disruption for the Good of the Caribbean.
The paper states that the country that many regard as the least capitalistic in the region is about to teach its neighbour governments, capitalists and free market adherents a lesson.
The white paper stresses that through the years, the governments of the Caribbean have shown a preference for revenues from commodities and agriculture to revenues from tourism.
Cuba has long recognised that the great advantages of tourism are that it not only brings much needed foreign exchange but also delivers broad-based employment, establishes linkages throughout the economy, depletes few, if any, natural resources and is sustainable over time.
The CHTA aims to raise awareness about both the challenges and the opportunities to the region with the pending removal of travel barriers to Cuba.
The paper stresses that the anticipated increase of US visitors to Cuba should prompt the region’s public and private sector leaders to take positive steps to improve their global competitiveness or face negative economic and social consequences.
CHTA president Emil Lee argued: “We want to be clear that the CHTA welcomes the lifting of the US travel embargo and Cuba participating with the rest of the Caribbean as a tourism partner.
“This would eliminate a significant barrier to improving regional cooperation and integration.”
The paper also describes trade and investment opportunities, how Cuba can learn from the region and how the region can learn from Cuba about improving destination and regional competitiveness.
Lee said: “Cuba should not be a point of fear for the region, rather it should be a rallying point for opportunity.
“Failure to act will result in a diversion of Americans and travellers curious to experience Cuba before it changes, many who would otherwise go elsewhere in the Caribbean.”
“Cuba is already well established as a destination for many direct long-haul flights and shows great potential to be a regional air hub, much like San Juan.
“By example, we believe travel to the Caribbean could be stimulated significantly by adopting policies and practices which eliminate visa and travel barriers, reduce regional and US-based high air travel related taxes and fees, speed up the traveller’s clearance and processing time, and support a more cooperative approach among industry stakeholders.
“Advancing these ease of travel and cost of travel strategies would drive more business to the region.”
The paper candidly states that “relatively little effort has been spent on turning the most tourism dependent region in the world into the most tourism competent”.