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Geographic misconception creates devastating impact on Caribbean economies

Director General of Tourism Joy Jibrilu.

By Sarah Peter From Caribbean News Now

NASSAU, Bahamas — The mistaken perception among many travelers of the complete devastation of the Caribbean in the wake of the 2018 hurricane season caused further economic destruction to the region’s economy. That’s according to the chair of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Joy Jibrilu. She raised the concern amid staggering losses among countries that were not impacted by the 2017 hurricane season.

Jibrilu said that, following the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria to some islands in the region, many travelers called and cancelled for countries that were not impacted by the storm. This resulted in a significant drop in hotel room demand across the entire Caribbean.

In light of that, another disaster, an economic storm, was created that resulted in great losses in tourism revenue and a challenge for tourism officials: “All our travel partners, all of them without exception called and said that we have heard the Caribbean is closed.”

She added that Caribbean islands, irrespective of whether or not they were actually impacted by the storm, were economically affected.

“We all lost when people were not sure if or when to book, if they cancelled you saw a dip in bookings because people thought that the islands which were not impacted were. We must quantify the figures of lost business so we can share the story with the world to tell them how serious it is.”

The CTO chair noted that over one US$1 billion in tourism revenue was lost in the wake of last year’s hurricane season, the costliest hurricane season on record.

Jibrilu, who is also the director of tourism for The Bahamas, said the region’s reconstruction and recovery effort has been estimated at close to $6 billion.

“Tourism is the region’s greatest driver of foreign exchange, tax revenue and reliable vehicle of poverty reduction and human capital development for the region’s small island developing states. The tragedy is that the dampening of demand occurred even among islands that were not in the path of the storm. This contributed to an economic disaster, as tourism visitation dropped off, resulting in significant losses in revenue,” she said.

Jilbrilu blamed the international media for the problem. She says their reports described the region as if it was one country as opposed to several different islands. The chairman of the CTO says this inaccurate reporting is costing a region millions and negatively impacting lives in the region.

“First of all if we look at international news reporters when they talk about a hurricane they say the ‘Caribbean’ has been impacted. They generalize and say the entire Caribbean. As a result, people look at the Caribbean as a whole unit as opposed to all these different countries, thousands of miles away from each other. To put it in context The Bahamas alone from north to south covers 100,000 square miles — that is further than the distance of Toronto to New York. So if a storm happens in New York no one would say I am not going to Toronto. They just would not, it just does not make sense but, when people lump the Caribbean together as just one region (as if it was just one country), it is negative,” she continued.

Jilbrilu said the region’s economy and people’s lives depend on accurate reporting and making the international media more aware of this is a matter of economic prosperity or suffering for the region’s people.

“What we have done is to educate people of the geography of the Caribbean that the same time it takes to travel from The Bahamas to Barbados is the same as traveling from London in the UK to Rome, Italy. So what happens to The Bahamas does not impact Barbados and vice versa. We really want to get that message out,” she said.

Jilbrilu made the remarks at the 2018 annual Caribbean Aviation Meetup in The Bahamas. Dubbed the Caribbean region’s largest aviation conference, the annual event brings together major players from the aviation and tourism industries aimed at tackling problems faced by the world and the Caribbean’s tourism and aviation industries.

IMAGE: Joy Jibrilu. Photo: Nassau Guardian

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