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Tourism competition getting stiffer

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A Carnival cruise line ship in Havana’s harbour? A fashion show by globally-famous Chanel in the boulevards of Old Havana? In Cuba, long denied such spectacleS and in turn vocal advocate against such activities? This must be some kind of joke, or has the world been turned topsy-turvy?{{more}}

Those real developments in the world of travel and tourism took place last week in Cuba, heralding a new phase not only in US/Cuba relations, but in tourism developments in the Caribbean. They are events which have huge implications for the entire tourism industry in the Caribbean, and which we can ignore only at our own peril. Both can be attributed to the thawing of the previously frosted relations between the two countries on opposite sides of the Florida straits since the historic December 2014 decision to resume diplomatic relations and normalcy.

For more than 50 years, such developments were unthinkable, as the USA maintained a complete economic blockade against Cuba and looked on with frowns as its own allies, in this hemisphere and in Europe, moved to take advantage of obvious trade and investment opportunities in the embargoed island.

In the 21st century, in particular, tourism in Cuba has been booming, as has foreign investment in that sector. World Bank statistics show that in 2014, Cuba recorded some 2,970,000 arrivals. That is twice the combined total of the OECS countries and Barbados, more than The Bahamas and Barbados together, and exceeding the sum of arrivals in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago.

One can, therefore, look upon this growing tourism market in Cuba as either a threat to the rest of the Caribbean, as some are wont to do, or, as some more enlightened countries have done, as an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration. Aruba, for instance, itself heavily dependent on tourism, recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Cuba, covering cruise ship routes, managing cruise facilities and a Double Destination Programme.

We, here in SVG, have identified tourism and the hospitality industry as key growth areas for our economy. We must, therefore, be sharp to what is taking place around us and learn how to manoeuvre ourselves through rough economic waters. It is true that our government has publicly raised cooperation with Cuba in tourism matters as being an area of interest, but not much has been heard since.

Indeed, in spite of our talk about tourism, there is genuine concern that we do not seem to be exerting the efforts, to be exhibiting the energy, in promoting the sector and getting both the infrastructure and the social and human environment to be able to accommodate rapid tourism development. SVG seems to be trailing many of our Caribbean neighbours in terms of tourism promotion.

It appears that we are all waiting on the completion of the Argyle International Airport to create miracles, but the airport by itself cannot give the boost unless the other factors are in place. It is strange that one is not seeing a level of investment which suggests that tourism development is about to take off post-Argyle. What are potential investors, local ones in the first place, waiting for? The opening of the airport? And what of investments in the entertainment industry, both in a hard sense, physical and “soft” sense, development of our human resources and cultural packages?

Then, there is air access itself. How far are we in negotiating with international carriers? Schedules for the next winter season would already have been drawn up; do we have supplementary charter packages? And if we do, do we have rooms to put visitors, or an adequate number of recreational and entertainment packages?

These are real issues we must confront if we are to realize our obvious potential. The Caribbean, and SVG, cannot afford to sit on our laurels, never mind our physical attractions. We found that out the hard way in the global commodity trading system. Competition is stiff and increasing, from other regions and right within our neighbourhood and we must meet it head on.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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