Tourism dependent destinations in the Caribbean including T&T must have pre-existing systems that build resilience which include strong internal operating structures consisting of solid governance, planning and management, according to recent research conducted by Dr Acolla Cameron and lecturer Tenisha Brown-Williams at the UWI, St Augustine campus.
While vaccination programmes have begun and much needed COVID-19 protocols have been instituted supported by retraining of hospitality and tourism workers and a redesign of tourism experiences, some destinations have seen themselves repeatedly opening and closing their borders due to second and third waves of COVID-19 infections, UWI noted.
And, as Caribbean countries continue to navigate these rough waters, UWI said it is not only focused on immediate recovery but on building resilience to potential and future shocks.
The research concentrated on future-proofing tourism dependent islands in the Caribbean and Asia-Pacific regions.
Cameron said for T&T this means strengthening its tourism governance system by adequately funding and staffing the two destination management organisations (the Trinidad Tourism Ltd and the Tobago Tourism Agency Ltd) and clearly clarifying the roles and opportunities for collaboration among these tourism state entities.
“It means a partnering between the educational institutions (the Tobago Hospitality and Tourism Institute and the UWI) to ensure that the manpower training needs of the industry are met.
“It calls for a continuous empowering of the local communities/villages to effectively manage their resources and create diverse tourism experiences. It requires leveraging of technology by all tourism entities to improve the management of the sector and the quality of the tourism experience,” Cameron explained.
The study compared tourism responses to the pandemic of six Small Island Developing States (SIDS) namely, the Maldives, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Bahamas, Antigua and Barbuda and St Lucia to propose destination resilience considerations in the new operating environment that has evolved due to COVID-19.
It noted that these SIDS all exhibit on average a high dependence on tourism as characterised by GDP contribution and export earnings from tourism.
Cameron, senior lecturer of tourism and Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences said in response to the crisis, the survival instinct of SIDS came to the fore in the immediate implementation of the various socio-economic interventions.
However, she noted the interventions were reactionary as many for example had to establish crisis response committees whereas crisis teams should have been in place given the vulnerability of these destinations to varying crises.
“Tourism resilience strategies converges on the symbiotic relationship between people and systems with a focus on building a resilient Caribbean people with survival, adaptation and innovation competences,” Cameron added.
Brown-Williams said the study clearly indicated that to build tourism resilience for the Caribbean there is also the urgent need for the region to embrace innovation, specifically through the leveraging of technology.
This, she added, is in keeping with increasing research on smart tourism destinations.
Brown-Williams added that it is evident the use of new technologies enhances capacities and capabilities of destinations to generate new products and experiences and to communicate in real time with existing and potential tourism source markets.
“For Caribbean countries, this potentially minimises the dependency and ensuing vulnerability associated with the limited pursuit of specific source markets and tourism products.
“However, noteworthy is the role of effective governance to efficiently leverage technology as a transformative resilience building tool,” she said.
The World Travel and Tourism Council indicated in May 2021 the travel and tourism sector’s contribution to Caribbean GDP dropped by US $33.9 billion in 2020 representing a dramatic 58 per cent collapse in the sector’s GDP contribution and as a result 680,000 jobs were lost with many still hanging in the balance in 2021.
The council also noted that the majority of destinations in the most tourism dependent region in the world closed their borders to international tourism in March 2020 with many establishing tourism recovery committees and recovery plans with the intent of reopening borders for international travel and to generate much needed economic activity.
A soon-to be-published book on tourism resilience in six Caribbean countries including St Lucia, Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica, Puerto Rico and Tobago edited by Cameron, Dr Leslie-Ann Jordan-Miller and Dr Sherma Roberts (Cave Hill campus) offered additional insight on the industry.
In sharing some of the insights of the book Cameron noted there is a critical need for diversification of Caribbean economies to break the tourism overdependence strangle hold.
Consideration she said, must be given to diversification within and diversification beyond tourism, as possibilities for strengthening the Caribbean region.
“Alternatives shifting to more niche tourism products that are low-density and high value-added and that creates local intersectoral linkages diversifying to the “blue economy,” shipping, fisheries and aquaculture, and mainstreaming technology in productive processes to reduce costs and improve efficiencies are worthy of consideration,” she explained.
Cameron added that there is no romanticising the notion of transformative resilience or “bouncing forward quickly” instead it is likely to be a costly exercise where incremental but steady progress is made.
She also advised that the environment which forms the main part of the Caribbean tourism sector must be preserved through relevant legislation, strict enforcement and stiff fines for environmental breaches.
Additionally, Cameron posited the Caribbean faces and continues to experience the impact of global warming in the form of stronger hurricanes, rising sea levels and loss of marine life.
Like Dominica which has proclaimed its intention to become the world’s first climate-resilient nation and by extension tourism resilient, other Caribbean countries must incorporate disaster risk management mechanisms in tourism related facilities, disaster risk management training for stakeholders and capacity building in climate resiliency and disaster preparedness for industry stakeholders, Cameron suggested.
“This recommendation is a salient one considering recent indications that the Caribbean region is likely to face an increase in severe storms in 2021,” she added.
Furthermore, a common thread throughout the Caribbean islands under review in the book is the value of collaboration and public-private sector partnerships to create an enabling environment for tourism resilience.
Cameron indicated that stakeholder management, partnership and collaboration through a participatory approach were identified as best practices for facilitating tourism resilience.
She noted that recommendations must be included within a broader national sustainable development vision, so that social, environmental, economic and institutional gains made in times of abundance are not lost due to one shock event.
This piece of research, Cameron added, also emphasised the need for effective governance, proper development of human resources, technological and institutional capacities within the Caribbean region to future proof the Caribbean tourism sector.