Hotel Association President Urges Caribbean Governments To Take Action On Sustainable Funding, Recognize Tourism As Number One Generator Of Jobs
Remarks Focus on Integration Across Caribbean, Relaxed Taxation, Airlift
Forstmayr incorporated the UK Prime Minister's words because "they are just as applicable to the Caribbean, even more so to the Caribbean."Forstmayr urged that, "In order to remain viable in the future, we need to ensure the sustainability of our industry today. There must be a strong consensus of our leaders and the public so that travel and tourism will receive the full support it needs as the Caribbean's most vital export.
"It is therefore crucial that our governments embrace the economic importance of the tourism industry as a major generator of jobs throughout the region."
Forstmayr explained that one of his first acts as president of CHTA, representing the hospitality and tourism industry across 36 nations in the Caribbean, was to launch the "Tourism is Key" advocacy campaign underlining the importance of travel and tourism to local Caribbean economies.
The "Tourism is Key" ad campaign highlights several important facts:
- Travel & Tourismdirectly and indirectly employs more than1.9 million people in the Caribbean (1 in every 9 jobs).
- Travel & Tourism employs 284,000 people in Jamaica (almost 1 in every 4 jobs).
- Travel & Tourism accounts for 12.8% of the Caribbean's economic activity (GDP) - more than in any other region in the world.
- Travel & Tourism accounts for 27.7% of Jamaica's GDP - over US$3.7 billion.
Forstmayr also quoted Robert Crandall, former Chairman of American Airlines, who remarked at the annual Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Investment Conference (CHTIC) in May with, "The Caribbean is uniquely dependent on tourism. Everyone involved in travel and tourism knows that our industry is immensely important to the world economy, generating and supporting - either directly or indirectly - about one in eleven jobs worldwide.
"Here in the Caribbean, it is even more important. On a number of islands, travel and tourism accounts for more than 50% of all employment, and on some islands for more than 75%."
"Overall, about 20% of all Caribbean employment is travel and tourism dependent - something on the order of 2.5 million jobs."
Crandall also urged that "travel and tourism should be at the center of our collective consciousness since the Caribbean is more dependent on travel and tourism than almost any other region. Of the 10 countries in the world most dependent on tourism, seven are in the Caribbean."
Forstmayr also called upon statements from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), a renown independent research organization, which agrees that many governments continue to give the tourism and hospitality industries less attention than it deserves. A report from WTTC stated: "Many public officials simply do not appreciate its profound impact on construction, real estate, manufacturing, agriculture and the linkages to all other sectors of the local economy."
"Travel & Tourism is a major economic and social driver in the Caribbean," said Jean-Claude Baumgarten, President and CEO of the WTTC. "It is essential that its value is recognized by governments and the public at large, and that governments help to unlock its full potential for the benefit of all stakeholders in the Caribbean."Forstmayr then said, "I am strongly urging all our Caribbean governments to accept this premise. NOT accepting this clear message will simply lead to no new investors coming to the region, present investments will dry up and go bust, and existing industry will continue to under-perform."
Forstmayr added, "We in the Caribbean hotel industry recognize that the economic importance of travel and tourism to the Caribbean is indisputable. However, there is still insufficient awareness and understanding of the industry's economic contribution and how it permeates the depth and breadth of the general economy and overall fabric of Caribbean society.
"Previous efforts to get this message across have resulted in mixed success. This is why we need to focus on influencing the average voter who may not realize how dependent his livelihood is on travel and tourism. It is the average person in our countries to whom our leaders are ultimately responsible; therefore they are the targets of our advocacy campaign."
Forstmayr also targeted the youth of the Caribbean noting, "We must ensure that they can participate in the ownership and economic benefits of the industry. Successful companies today are proactively and effectively managing their human resources. Having good talent and highly motivated staff working with our guests is very important."
He urged, "Every government should immediately undertake a full scale public education campaign in schools, at job sites and through community organizations. Every citizen needs to understand that, whether or not he or she works directly in the tourism areas, every tourist's dollar brings economic and social benefits to every level of society.
"Part of this education must focus on how to facilitate the smooth movement of our visitors which begins with easy access and fewer visa restrictions between our countries. It is ludicrous to have visa regimes between CARICOM countries.
"Our nationals should be able to travel freely from one Caribbean island to another. We tend to speak of "integration" but at the same time we stand by and let our governments erect more barriers. Do NOT underestimate the potential for regional travel.
"It also means a more welcoming entry. We put "paper over people" with lengthy and confusing immigration forms and long lines as we welcome our guests at our airports."Forstmayr strongly urged his own Jamaican government "to take the lead. Our prime minister is now the chairman of CARICOM. He should lead the effort to abolish unnecessary and discriminating visa regimes."
He added, "I am also calling for our governments to adopt the need to make the welcome at our ports of entry, especially our airports, the BEST anywhere in the world. Shorter and simpler immigration and custom forms in several languages, quicker and friendlier processing of our visitors.
"We must live up to our promise of being this friendly and warm destination that is truly welcoming; we are far away from that now."
Forstmayr also touched on the very sensitive tax issues noting that "Our hotels in the Caribbean are taxed beyond where we should be through direct and indirect taxes."We are one of the Caribbean's primary exports, yet we are not seen by our own governments as such. In many cases, exports are encouraged, not taxed and burdened by high import duties, from food items to spirits and construction materials. "Governments across the Caribbean must provide a more reasonable import duty policy for the refurbishment and renovation of existing hotels. This is mandatory if we are to remain competitive with the rest of the world.
"We need to cut the red tape and eliminate taxes that are counter-productive to the growth of tourism."
One of the key challenges noted by Forstmayr is that "we can create demand and have the rooms ready, but nobody is coming. It is not because we have not done the proper marketing and promotions. It is because there is limited or no airlift to bring these vacationers to our destinations.
"The hoteliers are helpless in changing this situation. It is solely up to governments to negotiate air service agreements and to stimulate air travel to our destinations. I recommend the need for regional hubs and less protectionism for national carriers. We need MORE competition not LESS to ensure affordable air travel for visitors from within or outside of the Caribbean."
Forstmayr also took the governments to task for the lack of a sustained regional marketing and promotion fund. "The private sector would love to fund a full-scale national marketing campaign to drive visitors to our destinations and ultimately into our hotels. However, we are challenged to find enough funds to do our own marketing along with maintaining our properties and facilities in top notch order.
"It is the government's national tourist boards that MUST be funding marketing and promotional efforts, including the much needed regional marketing campaign to draw attention to our region as the leading warm weather vacation destination in the Western hemisphere.
"Once this is done, it is up to the individual destinations to direct business to its shores. Then it becomes the task of the hotels to differentiate themselves from the competition and to garner their fair share of the visitor flow.
He noted that American Airlines' Robert Crandall "told us that 18 years ago in 1992, at a meeting held in Kingston, the Caribbean heads of government agreed to collaborate in a partnership with the private sector to organize and sustain - the key word is sustain - a regional marketing fund. However, despite substantial private sector contributions from CHTA and our members in 1993 which resulted in a regional advertising program and a 10.4% increase in visitor traffic to the Caribbean, governments cannot agree on a sustainable funding mechanism for a regional marketing program now."
In one of his strongest statements of the evening, Forstmayr urged: "It is time that all our Caribbean governments and the entire private sector get off our collective butts and work together to get over this hurdle. We must find a way that will lead us to a successful regional tourism marketing program. We are ready for this and we are challenging our governments to join us at CHTA."
Forstmayr concluded urging a strong call to action by the governments of the region and, in particular Jamaica with: "We need more regional integration, less visas, more airlift, less taxation and I urge once again, that our country, Jamaica takes the lead to establish funding for a regional marketing campaign.
"Jamaica has proven time and again that it can rise to many challenges. Now that we are in the driving seat, Jamaica must lead with confidence and the conviction that travel and tourism is the most effective way for the deeper integration of the Caribbean and the future prosperity for all its people. The time to act is now."
Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association
The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) facilitates the full potential of the Caribbean hotel and tourism industry by serving members' needs and building partnerships in a socially responsible and sustainable manner. CHTA was founded in 1962; it is the voice of the Caribbean hospitality industry for the development of the region in the highly competitive and sophisticated environment of international tourism. Today, tourism is widely recognized as a pivotal industry in the economy of the region - and CHTA functions as the common denominator for this industry in a region of diverse nationalities, languages and styles, identifying mutual problems and marshalling the resources of the active and allied members to devise solutions. CHTA represents all facets of the hospitality industry with more than 725 member hotels and 525 allied members.
For more information, visit . Follow CHTA on Facebook and Twitter .
Theresa Oakes/Josh Kahn