August 8, 2022

Reinventing ourselves

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tonyfraser_50By Tony Rakhal-Fraser From Guardian T&T

Offloading the taxation burden on air travel into and around the region to encourage increased travel; linking the several national and private airlines operating in the Caribbean into a network that allows for inter-airline connections; expanding the Caribbean share of an ever-growing international travel market—last year 1.2 billion people travelled the globe, a figure set to increase to 1.8 billion by 2030—linking the tourism economy to the production sectors of the local and the regional economy; integrating Caribbean tourism destinations to give the traveller options of visiting several islands and cultures, and minimising travel bureaucracy that now encumbers the traveller were among the major issues raised and analysed at the State of the Tourism Industry Conference held recently in Barbados.

They are not new issues. In fact, they go to the heart of the underdevelopment of Caribbean economies and societies in the post-colonial period. The outstanding challenge is to cultivate the political will and entrepreneurial attitudes to go after objectives which are well known. This is compared to the historical role that was determined for the Caribbean to subserve the interest of the metropole. We are still mining and exporting raw materials and semi-finished products and purchasing the finished products from Europe and North America.

We need to reinvent ourselves.

For more than 60 years, the brightest economic minds have proposed a way forward with little success of achievement. The best of our political administrations and the most entrepreneurial of the business community have failed to transform the one-horse Caribbean economy.

How to link production of our most competitive export crops, products and services (tourism) with the rest of the economy to enjoy the spin-off benefits is a challenge. Tourism Minister of The Bahamas, Obie Wilchcombe, notes that in the Bahamas, one of the largest and most “successful” tourism economies in the region, 80 cents out of every dollar spent by the tourist leaks out to foreign suppliers of goods and services for the tourist.

The Central Bank of Barbados reports that the tourism industry experienced a five per cent increase in receipts for 2015, yet the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country advanced by a statistically insignificant 0.5 per cent. The macro-economic data gives the impression that there are limited linkages of the buoyant tourism economy with the rest of the Barbados economy and society—it is a regional pattern.

Honouring our Legacy; Defining our Future, the theme of the CTO conference, was recognised in a most insightful manner through wax images of two of the greatest bearers of the West Indian legacy, the incomparable Sir Garfield Sobers and the genius of Brian Lara. Unbelievable talent and skills, the demonstrated capacity for innovation and inventiveness, and the refusal to be bounded by traditional dogma and approaches are some of the defining legacies of these two great West Indians.

If I wanted to argue with the CTO—and yes I want to, I would say a wax image of Sir Frank Worrell had to be there too to indicate his legacy in leadership, responsibility, discipline, strategic thinking, and the capacity to integrate the region in a manner never experienced before and after. These are legacies to be emulated as we seek to define our future.

The task for the tourism industry and the entire Caribbean is how to transfer that legacy into a new, defining and innovative approach to tourism and general economic development.

Taxation of the airline industry averages between 35 to 70 per cent (Insel figures) on the airline ticket. This capture of an industry must be relinquished to empirical data for governments desperate for tax revenue to come to an understanding and be brave enough to lower taxes on the airline ticket and open the possibility of a greater influx of tourists from outside and within. The experience is that when such adjustment of taxes is done, the destination achieves a doubling of arrivals. It has been done in destinations such as Colombia, states an official of Insel Airline.

Once upon a time, the argument was for one regional airline. Today, the more rational approach is to forge linkages between and among air carriers, including foreign airlines, flying into and around the Caribbean through an open skies policy, say aviation experts.

In Tobago, questions—a few of them legitimate—are being asked about the only indigenous Caribbean hotel brand name, Sandals, which is desirous of establishing a resort. Well, the Hiltons, Hyatts, Four Seasons and others are in the Caribbean: what is the problem with Sandals? Is it that we still don’t trust ourselves? Let us negotiate the best deal possible.

The production of food and provision of manufactured items used in hotel room and at bara by the 30 million visitors to the region is market for local entrepreneurs.

The regional private sector should also come alive and take on risks to market and sell the cultural legacy of the region to visitors and to ourselves: a multi-language legacy; the performing and visual artistes; the environment of the mountains, the landscape, the sea, the flora and fauna. Lingering still in a few island-nations is the culture of our Amerindian ancestors which needs to be salvaged and shared.

Learning to treasure and make capital of the intellectual gifts of Caribbean citizens should result in displays, museums, and demonstrations of the works of our writers and artistes. This could be our “last train to San Fernando.”

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