When natural disasters strike, there are obvious immediate impacts. But long after the attention of the world shifts elsewhere, the effects of disasters like hurricanes, continue to negatively impact the growth and sustainability of Caribbean countries. One of the sectors that suffers the most is Tourism, which in many cases relies on physical attractiveness and the availability amenities of such as comfortable lodging. Numbers from 2017 provide a clear picture of just how much disasters can impact economies and the tourism sector. What we know for is natural disasters are a major long-term risk to “Brand Caribbean” and its role as a major driver of economies in the world’s most tourism- dependent region.
Insurance industry estimates suggest total global losses from natural catastrophes in 2017 stood at US$330 billion. Of this amount, US$215 billion were hurricane induced and only US $135 billion were insured. The World Travel and Tourism Council’s (WTTC) 2018 report on Caribbean Resilience and Recovery indicates that the 2017 hurricane season resulted in an estimated loss of over 800 thousand visitors as compared to visitation forecasts. This likely resulting in a loss of US$741 million for the region. WTTC’s research also suggests that it could take the region up to 4 years to recover from the impact of the 2017 hurricane season.
In the aftermath of disasters, hotels are increasingly acting like first responders by providing shelter, food and services. The truth is that these emergencies present significant hurdles for tourism businesses to continue their day to day operations. Moreover, subjective risk perception is an important part of the tourism decision-making process and in efficient handling of crises linked to disaster events can have huge economic, political and social impacts.
Traditionally, the Caribbean disaster risk management (DRM) community has developed scenario-based standard operating procedures, protocols and institutional coordination mechanisms for the Caribbean’s tourism sector. For example, these procedures would include hurricane related emergency response and post-impact damage and needs assessments at regional, national and sub-national levels. While such mechanisms are important there are many new and emerging scenarios, with considerably high-risk potential to impact Caribbean tourism resilience, for which such models are increasingly inadequate.
New and emergent risk scenarios that consider realities such as the prevalence of sargassum on Caribbean beaches; health-related deaths; mysterious homicides; vector borne disease outbreaks; cruise ship incidents; reported cases of sexual assault; and disappearances at sea, are perhaps more optimally responded to. They are also better managed by systems where destination management organizations (DMOs) have strong crisis communications mechanisms in place.
The prevalence of real-time social media conversations, citizen journalist reporting, consumer reviews and self-nominated expert opinions rendered on the “global information super-highway” constitute a dynamic, challenging, contemporary digital frontier for which pioneering crisis response protocols and adaptive response mechanisms need to be fashioned.
Early diagnostic assessments commissioned by the IDB and conducted by Professor Pennington-Gray, of the Tourism Crisis Management Initiative of the University of Florida, confirm that there are considerable opportunities in the Caribbean tourism industry for both the public and private sectors to:
- invest in the reform of traditional tourism statistics data collection
- invest in the design and conduct of both applied and behavioral research as well as knowledge generation to enhance crisis communication, risk reduction and resilience policies and practices.
- improve tourism crisis communication plans across Caribbean countries to accommodate multiple disaster scenarios
- better establish policies for and communications roles of DMOs and their coordinated stakeholder groups in relation to DRM
- increase the skills of national tourism organizations (NTOs) to better understand disaster risks
- move the NTO into an ongoing disaster risk management leadership role, with responsibilities for tourism specific disaster risk training, capacity building and knowledge enhancement
- practically strengthen the relationship between Caribbean DRM actors, NTOs and DMOs
- invest in research, trial/testing, and implementation of transformative digital applications which optimize crisis communication objectives in real time.
A period of research and testing is critical when incorporating any new technology into an existing process. The region should contemplate policy reform and investments that embrace the goldmine of big data. Digital applications and media can help incorporate climate data, visitor preferences, and visitor behavior into models that feed into targeted crisis communication planning and more real time responses for the tourism sector. Financial investment in innovative and reformed data collection and analysis ought to be incorporated into every annual public budget in order to better predict and guide behavior as well as consumer choices. The goal is to create safer, more attractive and resilient tourism destinations in the region.
This blogpost is part of the IDB Group’s COP25 Campaign. COP25, under the Presidency of the Government of Chile, will take place from 2 – 13 December 2019 in Madrid, with logistical support from the Spanish government.
#BIDCOP25 y #COP25