Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Caribbean tourism players, governments and statutory planners need to understand that agriculture is a critical economic player before tourism

Can new tourism strategies bolster CARICOM economies?

By Ian Francis

The frank response is YES. CARICOM governments are urged to quickly change their dreams and beliefs by taking a second look at the agricultural industry. It was quite interesting to see Jamaica a few days ago announced a major injection of $50 million (US) to revive its banana industry that has been on the decline.

Ian Francis resides in Toronto and is a frequent contributor on Caribbean affairs. He is a former Assistant Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Grenada and can be reached at info@visminconsultancy.caIn my humble understanding, regional tourism players, governments and statutory planners need to understand that agriculture is a critical economic player before tourism. The plight, regional planning and belief that tourism in the OECS could be viable with the injection of euro funds and regional meetings should think twice.

Tourism products in the Caribbean region are now centred on Cuba, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Barbados. They have developed branded tourism products, which they market, affordable and within reach to would be tourists. White sand, long beaches, green lush and rare birds are not tourism products for external marketing.

At a recent tourism pow-wow in Grenada, several ideas were suggested about potential use of tourism ambassadors, which included Kirani James and Rondell Bartholomew as facilitators. Utilization of local sports achievers to market a nation’s tourism industry is very narrow thinking and that policy intent should be zapped and laid to rest.

Addressing tourism issues in the Caribbean region is a very broad challenge for which I am not equipped. Therefore, I have restricted my views and observation to Grenada. Tourism Minister Peter David recently hosted a national tourism conference and addressed several issues pertaining to the local industry. Minister David must be commended for his efforts as tourism decline is a regular issue of discussion in the State.

Many who are engaged in the conversations tend to shoulder blame on the government. While some of the blame on the Thomas administration is justified, the critics must be reminded that tourism has changed and it is a matter of being able to market a product(s) to diverse constituencies that reflect age, race, gender, economic status and income.

How is Grenada marketing its tourism products abroad? How are information technology tools applied in the marketing strategy? Do Grenada Tourism Board officials based in Grenada and abroad understand the foreign tourism markets? What professional and technical assistance do Grenada foreign tourism representatives receive from their local tourist board? It will be interesting to read the answers.

There is no doubt that Grenadians remain very proud of the athletic success of Kirani James and Rondell Bartholomew. While these two young men have been fortunate in accessing athletic scholarships to higher learning institutions in the United States, is it fair and practical for Grenada tourism planners to even dream up a dumb thought of having these two individuals to be tourism ambassadors for Grenada.

I think there are many more creative thoughts that St George’s can advance on tourism marketing rather than hoping or dreaming that both successful athletes can influence tourism sustainability in Grenada.

Oops, this dumb suggestion of having Kirani and Rondell as tourism ambassadors reminds me very much of the recent ill-fated Diaspora conference in Grenada where our foreign minister had indicated that Grenadians in the Diaspora will mobilize droves of tourists to visit Grenada. This was also wishful thinking, as Diaspora initiatives seem to have fallen of the shelf.

Let me conclude by saying that Grenadians in the Canadian Diaspora support a vital tourism industry for Grenada. However, tourism officials in Grenada need to face certain hard realities and understand that there is something called “tourism marketing”. It calls for resources, talent, creativity and a strong agricultural economy. Look at Jamaica and Cuba.

December 7, 2011