Hugh Riley

In tourism, we know we have to be flexible.

Caribbean tourism is naturally impacted by threats that cause the state of the industry’s well-being to fluctuate. Unless a destination has unique characteristics, tourists can simply select another destination when faced with various threats. Therefore, if a country’s tourism industry is affected by pandemics/health crises, crime, natural disasters, global terrorism and economic woes, tourists will simply move to a place where they feel more comfortable. Though fairly rare, crisis events can have a dramatic impact on tourism and often consist of spill-over effects to nearby destinations within the same region.

This post will focus on how threats have affected Caribbean tourism and the extent to which we have been able to recover. As vulnerable and unpredictable as the tourism industry can be, it has a strong record of resilience.

Here are some examples..

Tourism & Zika

Confirmed cases of the Zika virus were on the rise since May 2015 when the Pan American Health Organization first issued an alert linking the mosquito-borne infection to infant brain defects in Brazil. Five Caribbean nations were placed under a level two Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) travel advisory, encouraging enhanced precautions while travelling.

Despite this advisory, the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) urged travelers not to cancel their travel plans to the Region, assuring them that proactive measures were in place to minimize the risk of transmission.

Working closely with the CHTA and the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the CTO continued to assess the situation, and  encouraged visitors to follow the professional advice and take precautions to protect themselves the way they would when travelling to most tropical destinations.

Caribbean countries and hotels continue to work with health authorities and local community groups to combat mosquito-borne viruses by eradicating breeding grounds, installing screens on windows and placing bed nets in outdoor sleeping areas. Indications are that the efforts have been effective.

Despite the spread of Zika in Brazil, with just one month to go before the Olympic Games begin, flight bookings to Rio are booming, according to ForwardKeys, which monitors future travel patterns by analyzing 14 million reservation transactions each day. When compared with the same dates last year, forward flight bookings are ahead 148% between July 27th and the Olympic Day on August 21st.

Flight bookings for the Paralympics, which run from September 1st-8th are also strong, up 23%. Regarding monitoring travelers’ health while in Brazil, Brazilians and international attendees of the Olympic and Paralympic Games will have the opportunity to self-monitor and report symptoms typical of known epidemics in the country.

At a time when Brazilians and nearly 500,000 foreign visitors will simultaneously enjoy the Games, the Secretary of Health Surveillance from the Ministry of Health in Brazil has just launched a new smartphone application called “Guardioes da Saude” (Guardians of Health).

Launched in collaboration with the United States-based Skoll Global Threats Fund, this groundbreaking initiative of participatory, crowd-sourced surveillance for mass events will collect information about the risk of disease transmission. This information will increase efforts to combat epidemics in weeks prior, during and after the Olympics.

In the process of monitoring and detecting outbreaks and epidemics, public participation is crucial to reduce the spread of diseases, such as those transmitted by the mosquito Aedes aegypti (dengue, Zika and chikungunya).

The technology and participation of society are vital to analyze health conditions near the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Users will record their own health and ultimately help protect the community around them. Daily questions related to health conditions, such as fever, body aches or joint pain are asked of the users; however even those feeling healthy are encouraged to report.

The moral of that story? Flex to the challenge and handle it.

Tourism & Brexit

A few weeks since Brexit and it is still early to determine what the effects will be.  As it still remains a challenge, the CTO has taken the necessary steps to ensure our members are provided with up to date information on Brexit’s possible implications. The Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) states that U.K. consumers could risk losing financial protection for compensation for flight delays, along with caps on mobile phone charges.

Flight compensation accounts for long delays on departures from EU airports. Following Brexit, airlines may no longer be assured by this legislation. There is also a possibility that Britain may be forced out of the Open Skies EU agreement, which keeps air fares relatively cheap.

Additionally, some savvy travelers may decide to take advantage of the deflated British pound and Euro. For travelers who have found high end rates too costly in recent years, the stronger U.S. dollar makes the best hotels and restaurants an instant valuable option for Americans.

Regarding short term travel, the weaker Pound makes it more attractive to travel to the U.K.. In the long term, access to the EU regarding passport control and potential visa requirements are all yet to be determined.

At this time, there are still more questions than answers and there is no concrete decision to be made on anything until Britain’s exit negotiations with the EU occur over the next two to three years. However, one area of uncertainty that has gone away is that we now know that Theresa May is Britain’s Prime Minister. Ms. May who opposed the EU exit, will now face some political challenges that her team will have to tackle, including how, and when, the U.K. wants to begin negotiating its exit from the EU. The separation can be complicated and could ultimately take years to formulate, with the U.K.’s economic strength at stake.

However Brexit ultimately turns out for the U.K., the CTO will continue to keep a close eye on the situation and will provide you with the most up to date information. We will also be observing how new partnership agreements can be formed with relevant stakeholders in the future. We live in a global economy; what affects one country or group, could easily affect us all.

The Assurance of Membership

Remarks from the Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland at last week’s CARICOM Leaders Summit in Guyana, included that the Commonwealth will provide strength, stability, solidarity and practical assistance to its member states, particularly small and vulnerable economies, who are less able to withstand the impact of climate change and changes in the global economy.

Baroness Scotland also outlined the Commonwealth’s determination to speak up for the Caribbean, and remind Commonwealth Caribbean members of the benefits of integration and partnership.

“My message to Caribbean countries is that I understand the concerns about the potential impact on small and vulnerable economies,” she stated last week. “ I want to remind them that Cyprus and Malta, Commonwealth countries, are European nations, and it is our intention to continue our close partnership with the EU through their membership.”

“My aim is for the Commonwealth to be a steadying anchor in these turbulent times, and to offer support to strengthen, stabilize and unite our countries, as well as give targeted and practical assistance to help every member state reach their development goals.”

One More Acronym to Remember – SOTIC

SOTIC is the State of the Tourism Industry Conference, the annual gathering of tourism leaders from across the Caribbean and around the world to tackle issues affecting the travel & tourism industry. Before we close, a quick note about this year’s SOTIC focus: Tackling the vexing issue of regional air travel; , responding to threats from crime, natural disasters and global terrorism; learning how to gain a greater share of new and emerging markets; discovering whether the sharing economy (i.e Airbnb, Uber and others) provides genuine opportunity; changing the face of the Caribbean’s tourism product, and more. Come and add your voice to the debate and be part of the regional solution: September 14-16, SOTIC in Barbados. www.OneCaribbean.org

Global conditions dictate flexibility; the Caribbean’s combined strength makes us unbreakable.