Leaders in the Caribbean tourism industry have been advised to embrace and develop the strengths of their people to keep the industry among the most competitive in the world.
The charge came from the acting secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Neil Walters speaking at the Grenada Tourism Authority’s inaugural awards ceremony held at the Spice Island Beach Resort in Grenada.
“Yes, we can have the most beautiful properties, the best airports, the best seaports, but it is the people who make the Caribbean tourism product what it is. It is your welcoming and hospitable spirit which encourages visitors to return,” said Walters.
The acting SG said demands from visitors for experiences beyond the traditional ‘sun, sea and sand’, only served to enhance the need for the industry to equip the hospitality workforce to perform at the highest level.
“If we took a snapshot of tourism at this point in time, we will see that one of the strongest reasons for the continued growth in the number of persons visiting our shores is the spirit exuded by the amazing individuals who get up and go out and work on the front line every day. The individuals who don’t just see it as a job but see the value of the service they are giving. That is the thing success stories in this industry are made of,” said Walters.
He said the trends towards experiential tourism call for the industry to shift away from excessive standardisation and embrace the unique culture of the destinations in the Caribbean.
The acting SG admonished tourism leaders to leverage the natural beauty and infrastructural edge the region has to develop emerging areas such as community-based tourism.
“In all the examples of community-based tourism I have seen, the key selling point for the visitor has been the chance to come and be in that community, to experience that community, to experience the people of that community. These communities create the unified voice necessary to market and sell the product, and, in turn, sustain the community’s project,” said Walters, who emphasised such an approach must build on the existing model of hotels which form the bedrock of the thriving Caribbean tourism industry.
“What we have to strive for is stronger links between this model with its sea and sand and the experiences which lie sometimes unlocked, away from the sea shore. As we change to match the demands of the times and embrace the treasures of experiences which exist inland, we must re-educate ourselves to see the value that we often overlook. Facets of traditional life that we may see as less than noteworthy, visitors may see as fascinating,” said Walters.
Walters said the Caribbean must embrace its identity and take pride in elements of its culture that can also serve to boost the attractiveness of destinations to the modern day visitor.
“I know that in recent times, across the Caribbean we have seen food festivals emerging which promote indigenous cuisine, which are popular with visitors. Well, let’s not hold back on the traditional delicacies which we are sometimes hesitant to unleash on visitors. I am sure many of our visitors would love those experiences. Some of our countries have communities skilled in pottery. We may need to move away from just selling pottery to giving pottery lessons. These are just a couple examples of the ways the things we do and how we live can become added value as we enhance our tourism industry” said Walters.
The acting CTO SG said the direction of the tourism industry calls for a rethink of how we maximise the value of our natural and intrinsic assets to create better selling points for the destinations and to do this people must be empowered to keep driving the industry forward.