CTC-25: Actions will be louder than words

By Gay Nagle Myers

FREEPORT, Bahamas -- With CTC-25 wrapping up today, a lot rides on what happens next.

Tourism officials and government ministers appear to be on the same page now and in agreement that Caribbean tourism faces serious challenges that require immediate action.

How to move from rhetoric to implementation is the challenge, according to Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism.

"We are 32 different countries. It is critical that we share knowledge and tactics with each other. Operating independently doesn't work and hasn't worked."

The efforts of travel agents were applauded by all sectors, although the absence of major U.S. carrier representatives at seminars and panel sessions was noted.

Jeff Jenks, president of Travel Is Fun in Detroit, pointed out that "travel agents will survive, but many airlines will not."

"We are great talkers, but there is little concrete action to back up the talk. We must adopt a pro-active approach. The time for talk is over," said Berthia Parle, president of the St. Lucia Hotel Association and moderator of a session that dealt with survival tactics in a threatening environment.

Parle's comment was echoed again and again in general sessions, press conferences and one-on-one conversations.

Bahamas' prime minister Perry Christie laid out the roadmap for the re-invention of Caribbean tourism -- the theme of this year's conference -- in his opening speech.

"Reinvention requires us to stop believing that our tourism job is finished when the visitor arrives in our country," Christie said.

Christie challenged Caribbean countries to collaborate together in public/private sector endeavors.

"No amount of promotions can erase a bad experience had or reported by a visitor," he said.

Jean Holder, CTO secretary general, said that there already are signs of communication and collaberation.

Conrad Aleong, CEO of BWIA, will host a regional airline meeting in Trinidad Nov. 11 to discuss methods of sharing equipment and cutting costs. Air Jamaica already has indicated it will attend.

The regional marketing campaign, Life Needs the Caribbean, will resume its cable TV schedule Nov. 6 for several weeks.

Discussions are under way for the second phase of the TV campaign to begin early in 2003.

While the challenges of air access, sustainable funding, hotel discounting, safety and security are present, Theo Heyliger, commissioner of tourism, St. Maarten, said that the threat of war with Iraq is "our No. 1 short-term problem. The entire Caribbean is uneasy. If the U.S. goes to war, it will affect the entire travel industry."

A new market push to attract the Afro-American market is a priority on CTO's list, according to secretary general Jean Holder.

"We have not pursued this market as aggressively as we should have," Holder said.

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