CHARLOTTE AMALIE, St. Thomas — While Apple Leisure Group has a long-term commitment to the Caribbean, its CEO, Alex Zozaya, warned last week that challenges exist that require a coordinated effort among all Caribbean countries to maintain a healthy relationship.
In his keynote at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s (CTO) annual State of the Industry Conference here, Zozaya pointed to:
• Fragmented regulations and lack of continuity in policies “that scare investors.”
• Taxation and investment barriers “that create uncertainty.”
• Barriers to visitor access (“Mexico is a good example of a country that has moved to successfully address visa regulations”).
• Bad statistics and late data.
• The lack of a comprehensive energy plan.
“The Caribbean needs to step out of its comfort zone, be pragmatic and run tourism like a business,” Zozaya said. “It cannot afford the levels of bureaucracy that now exist. Put the political agendas aside, and you will move faster.”
He pointed out that the Caribbean region has proximity to the most important tourism market in the world, the U.S.
“Other destinations would kill for that,” he said. “I don’t see why the U.S. alone cannot provide the 30 million visitors a year that the region has set as its goal by 2017.”
Yet he also cautioned that the perception among many travelers is “blurry” regarding the Caribbean.
“When you try to sell the whole Caribbean, the differences between islands are lost; it becomes a blend,” he said, adding that a greater focus is needed on preserving the heritage, culture and people of the region and on offering travelers authentic experiences on each island.
“Our Caribbean footprint is large,” he said. “We want this region of the world preserved for generations to come.”