We need to reconsider the way we move!
A recent blog by the Caribbean Economics Team mentions that “the global landscape for the sector has become more competitive and traditional source markets for the Caribbean are less dynamic”, referring to the recently published Caribbean Quarterly Economic Bulletin’s special report on tourism.
When I read of the need to diversify our source markets, I think to myself: If I were living in Brazil or China, what would entice me to make a trip to the Caribbean, much less, The Bahamas for a substantial amount of time. One major incentive would be the ability to travel to several islands, both in country and within the region, as some sort of island-hopping package.
But I can’t. I cannot travel direct to The Bahamas. I must first stop in the United States (keeping in mind the visa requirement), and once I land in the capital, I must overnight in order to catch the first flight to my outer island destination – hopefully the flight is not delayed. Similarly, I cannot travel direct from The Bahamas to Barbados. I must stop in the United States. While we talk about importing new tourists, are we placing equal importance and effort in finding new investment opportunities to facilitate inter-island travel?
Though initiatives by the Ministry of Tourism, such as plans to embark on a restructuring of domestic air transportation, are steps in the right direction, the cost of inter-island travel, particularly within The Bahamas is also a concern for Bahamians and tourists alike, as the Bahamas Out Island Promotion Board has voiced. However, investment in domestic air transportation is one of many needed solutions, and is certainly not the sole solution to sustainable tourism development.
As a Bahamian, I question why there isn’t a marine transport system that can take me to any of the 26 inhabited islands – at the very least? Revisiting my preference of wanting to be able to visit more than one country during my vacation, why has there not been a concerted regional effort to promote transportation planning and a mega-strategy for attracting new tourism sources?
Being an archipelago, The Bahamas should have a marine facility master plan. Coastal and environmental assessments should be continuous. Creating incentives for privatized port operations and reducing barriers to competition should be the subject of policy proposals, as they will help increase the level of investment and improve efficiency of our port system.
Such investments in transportation infrastructure (sea and air) will not only improve regional integration (as the country’s capital, Nassau, has the potential to be the hub or ‘gateway’ to the Caribbean), but it will also make Caribbean business more competitive, increasing trade and tourism between the U.S., Europe, Asia and Latin America. Ports and related facilities must be planned on a regional basis, to avoid the costs of division and duplication of efforts. Well-planned, critical infrastructure is essential to economic growth, especially in an archipelago. By providing investment and planning support throughout the 26 inhabited islands of The Bahamas, we are equipping not only tourists, but also Bahamians with an opportunity to discover and enjoy our islands and cays.
We must redefine the Bahamian tourism product, so as to keep up with competition from other destinations, alongside modernizing our logistics and connectivity, within The Bahamas. In addition to seeking public-private partnerships to develop mega-resorts or boutique hotels, there should be a renewed effort to obtain investment (domestic and foreign) in order to improve and expand our seaports, border security and airports. The institutions to facilitate this sort of planning already exist – both nationally and regionally! The Bahamas Investment Authority and the Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association can play a major role in promoting this dialogue.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization considers itself the region’s development agency. It’s purpose: Leading Sustainable Tourism – One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean. The Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) is a marketing and business development unit, owned equally by the Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA) and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO). Regional development banks such as the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) have technical and financial resources, which Caribbean policymakers need not take for granted.
Notwithstanding, it seems Caribbean nations have been speaking to different accords. We’re all tiny fish in a huge tank, rather than a school of fish swimming to find a means for all to survive. Caribbean leaders and policy makers must reconvene and devise a strategy going forward to make the most of the institutions and resources available.
We must rethink the way we move!