The Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) joins the global community today in celebrating World Tourism Day 2019 under the theme, “Tourism and Jobs: A better Future for All”.
Tourism is the region’s primary money earner, with the Caribbean welcoming an estimated 30.2 million international tourists and 29.3 million cruise visits in 2018, generating approximately US$39.3 billion in revenue for regional economies.
The sector provides a myriad of opportunities to enrich the lives of residents. It drives meaningful employment, investment and entrepreneurial initiatives, contributes to sustainable alternative livelihoods and supports community development, which has importantly begun to include development in rural and traditionally marginalised communities.
At our recently held Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development (STC) in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, we heard from various indigenous and other community presenters how sustainable tourism enterprises continue to act as conduits for social transformation by providing a means for women’s empowerment, youth engagement in meaningful work and contributing to poverty alleviation in communities such as the Charles Town maroon community in Jamaica, Rewa village in Guyana, and Hopkins Village in Belize. We also heard from The Bahamas how its People to People programme makes such a difference to the lives of Bahamians who host and connect with visitors.
Less than one week after STC, we received a stark reminder of the severe threats to the brighter future which tourism promises when Hurricane Dorian devastated Abaco and Grand Bahama in northwestern Bahamas where it lingered for two days. With sustained winds of 185 mph and higher gusts, Dorian was one more example of the increasing intensity of hurricanes, something that we fear is becoming all too common for the region.
The Dorian experience, along with Matthew in 2016 and Irma and Maria in 2017, emphasizes the urgent need for adaptation to the impacts of natural disasters propelled by climate variability and climate change (CVC). It should also highlight the support needed by the tourism sector, and most particularly national governments, to enhance climate resilience. Scientists have predicted among other CVC impacts, an increase in the frequency and severity of natural disasters.
These powerful climatic events in the last four years make it clear that the time to act is now. It is important to ensure climate adaptation and resilience of the sector, for the Caribbean to secure and maintain tourism’s role and capability as an engine for social and economic growth, the generator of jobs and the foundation of a future for all.
We have to do our own critical analysis, and in some cases, rebuild this important industry by ensuring the optimal use of social, natural, cultural and financial resources on an equitable and self-sustaining basis. The setbacks caused by these natural disasters present a very powerful opportunity for us to ‘build back better’, to borrow the slogan made popular by one of our members after the hurricanes in 2017.
Let us begin a journey of turning our threats into opportunities, that along with the existing strength of the Caribbean brand, can help us to move tourism to become an even more robust industry; one with an enhanced tourism product, generating new jobs and possibilities for our people and creating a better future for all.