Last updated: 05:13 PM ET, Mon June 01 2015

Caribbean Week Proves Gov't Policies, Tourism Success, Go Hand in Hand

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | June 01, 2015

Caribbean Week Proves Gov't Policies, Tourism Success, Go Hand in Hand

PHOTO: Puerto Rico’s tourism programs are led and coordinated by the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., a government-owned corporation. Pictured is Puerto Rico’s Porta del Sol resort district. (Photo by Brian Major).

June’s first week marks the annual launch of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO)’s Caribbean Week in New York. Part conference, part convention and part showcase for consumer events, Caribbean Week is designed to highlight the region’s collective culture, cuisine, music, history and its outstanding natural environments.

Yet Caribbean Week also serves, inadvertently perhaps, to highlight the tourism strategies (or lack of such) among Caribbean governments.

Any country that attracts international travelers would presumably benefit from effective government support for tourism programs and initiatives. But in the Caribbean, widely viewed as the world’s most tourism-intensive region, financially challenged countries rely on tourism as a key economic driver. Thus the relationship takes on an exponential importance.

Simply stated, the most successful Caribbean tourist destinations enjoy strong support from their governments. Similarly, virtually no Caribbean destination can expect to generate consistent tourist arrivals without effective government partnership.

In some destinations, the government’s impact on the county’s tourism business is unmistakable. Excluding Cuba, the three most popular Caribbean destinations based on CTO data – the Dominican Republic (5.1 million overnight visitors in 2014), Jamaica and (2.1 million) and Puerto Rico (1.7 million) – all benefit from dedicated government support for tourism through affiliated agencies and organizations.  

A variety of Dominican Republic agencies including Asonahores, the Dominican hotel and tourism association, coordinate public and private initiatives supporting travel and tourism. Revealingly, the country’s visitor arrivals data is tracked by the Central Bank of the Dominican Republic. And no less than the Dominican president, Danilo Medina, has set a goal of attracting 10 million annual visitors to the country.

Meanwhile for the first time in its history, Jamaica hosted more than two million visitors in two consecutive years in 2013 and 2014. In a Jamaica Observer interview last year Wykeham McNeill, the country’s tourism minister, attributed the success to "a major thrust to attract hotel investment in the 1990s, underpinned by unprecedented public sector investment in infrastructure.”

Puerto Rico’s tourism programs are led and coordinated by the Puerto Rico Tourism Co., a government-owned corporation headed by a board of directors and executive director appointed by the U.S. commonwealth’s governor, with the advice and consent of Puerto Rico’s senate. Among its duties has been the regulation and supervision of hotel casinos and of taxis.

Each of these three very distinct islands has navigated shifting political regimes to maintain a comprehensive and coordinated program of support for tourism programs, initiatives and infrastructure.

Meanwhile several Caribbean nations, working under new governments, are hoping political change will lead to renewed tourism growth.

In a “state of the nation” address Tuesday last month, Anguilla’s new chief minister promised to re-structure the country’s tourism agency. Victor Banks said the agency is one of several institutions that “deal with extremely important aspects of life on Anguilla,” and promised to make “urgent critical decisions” regarding its future.

Banks said the previous administration demonstrated “a total absence of clear leadership and direction among government and quasi-government tourism agencies” and added, “The government has not spent sufficient money on building roads, improving the quality of government properties, repairing and improving port facilities, and developing infrastructure generally.”

In February Timothy Harris, St. Kitts and Nevis’ new prime minister, swore in a new cabinet that includes Mark Brantley, Nevis’ minister of tourism for the last two years. Brantley was named the dual-island nation’s minister of foreign affairs and aviation. In an email to TravelPulse, Brantley outlined the importance of the government’s role in directing the country’s tourism policies.   

“This historic election victory, which ends 20 years of one regime's rule, affords the nation of St. Kitts and Nevis a truly remarkable opportunity to better coordinate its tourism policy,” he said. “Our role now is to emphasize the differences between the two islands and to capitalize on the immense value in our diversity.”  

Both Anguilla and St. Kitts and Nevis are “boutique” Caribbean destinations that last year recorded higher tourist arrivals but also hosted fewer than 100,000 land-based travelers in 2014. St. Kitts did host nearly 500,000 cruise-ship visitors last year. Yet for both nations, a strong tourism sector will have far-ranging impact on their islands’ futures.

Similarly, other Caribbean destinations are looking to their governments to enhance their fortunes through tourism. Over the past four years, Haiti’s Ministry of Tourism and Creative Industries has invested $345 million in tourism-oriented projects and infrastructure, officials said.

The impact of those investments is evident in Haiti’s growing visitor arrivals. In 2014 the country hosted 1,127,577 visitors, including 662,403 cruise ship passengers and 465,174 overnight, land-based tourists. The 2014 total represents a 10.8 percent increase compared with 2013.

Earlier this year the government of twin-island nation Antigua and Barbuda announced an agreement with star actor Robert DeNiro for a $250 million resort on Barbuda. Citing the Academy Award winner’s “visionary” appreciation for the country, Prime Minister Gaston Browne also named DeNiro, a frequent Antigua visitor, a “special economic envoy.”

“It is my belief that your celebrity status will attract more American celebrities to Antigua and Barbuda and the Caribbean,” Browne told DeNiro during a special sitting of the Antigua and Barbuda cabinet.

Of course, not every Caribbean nation will be able to convince an Oscar-winning actor to open a resort on their island. But this year’s Caribbean Week events will undoubtedly focus a spotlight on those destinations whose strong government support for travel and tourism have led to headline-grabbing results. 

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