Enrique De Marchena Kaluche, president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, urged the Caribbean region to launch new initiatives and "strengthen international advertising and programs" in response to a decrease in visitors across most of the region.
In comments to graduates of the School of Hotel Management and Tourism at Eastern Central University in the Dominican Republic, De Marchena Kaluche offered insight into current developments in the tourism industry and an overview of what is being done by governments and the private sector within the Caribbean region to combat the global economic crisis.
"As far as numbers of tourists and the spending power of American visitors are concerned, the American market is the main source of tourism for the Caribbean," he said.
"The Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Mexican Caribbean to a great extent -- and Jamaica, to a lesser extent -- are exceptions to this. However, the rest of the Caribbean depends heavily on the American market," he said.
Citing visitor increases in Cuba and Jamaica as the exceptions, De Marchena Kaluche said that the "reality for the rest of the Caribbean is more like the Bahamas rather than Cuba."
"Islands such as St. Lucia, St. Kitts, Bermuda, Barbados, Grenada and others suffered a 10% or more decrease in the influx of tourists so far this year," he said.
Looking at the overall picture in the Caribbean, he said, "The comparative analysis is revealing in so far as each Caribbean island has taken steps tailored to meet their individual needs. However, it should be noted that they all have common elements: reduction in taxes, job protection, social aid, increased advertising budgets and even the issue of electricity, which has an enormous impact on costs for the majority of the Caribbean islands, negatively influencing the competitiveness of our tourism product."
Pointing to various strategies in play, De Marchena Kaluche singled out St. Vincent and the Grenadines for allowing "electricity consumption for hotels at the same price as domestic users, reducing income tax from 30% to 20% for hotels applicable to 2009 income and 20% income tax for yacht operators."
Speaking of his native Dominican Republic, De Marchena Kaluche spoke of plans to double the investment in advertising, promotion and public relations; open offices in Europe, the U.S. and Latin America; work with emerging markets; and promote a regional communications program in the Caribbean.
He also spoke of greater efforts to facilitate investments, including "the elimination of bureaucratic hindrances to speed up the processing of new projects," specifically noting the creation of a unit for processing new projects combining elements from the departments of tourism and the environment.
Other initiatives in the D.R. include investments for infrastructure improvements, such as road improvements in major tourist hubs that began this month.
He noted that the "Caribbean is diverse, but at the same time is an intensely interconnected market." He criticized the absence of flight connections within the Caribbean as well as restrictive immigrations policies.