CTC panelists turn their attention to challenges of 21st century

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SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic -- Travel agents will continue to play critical roles in Caribbean tourism in the 21st century, particularly as competition heats up among destinations.

Also critical to the future of tourism is the training and development of the Caribbean people themselves, an issue that has been neglected, according to several speakers on a panel of industry representatives at the 23rd annual Caribbean Tourism Conference here.

The panel examined the history of tourism in the Caribbean and the challenges facing its future.

Angela Martins, director of tourism for the Cayman Islands, said close cooperation with external partners "will determine our future success."

She said agents who understand the tourism product "are critically important to our economic development. Our Caribbean success is linked to our partners and our own people."

Carla Noel, director of tourism for Trinidad & Tobago, echoed similar sentiments when she said, "We must wake up to the reality that if we are not delivering the product, we must step aside.

"The youth of the Caribbean are moving on. The history of Caribbean tourism is that young people have been marginalized."

Future success in tourism and development has much to do with "thinking out of the box. The future is now," Noel said.

The panel discussion was moderated by Alan Fredericks, vice president and editorial director of Cahners Travel Group, which publishes Travel Weekly. The session was heavily attended by U.S. agents, who numbered more than 300 at the conference.

Arley Sobers, director of information management and research for the Caribbean Tourism Organization, predicted that Caribbean tourism "will double by 2010. Its growth will be faster than the rest of the world."

Cuba, which chalked up a 33% increase in visitor numbers from January through May, compared with a 3% average increase for the rest of the region, will emerge as a top destination in the next 10 years when and if U.S. travel restrictions are lifted, Sobers said.

Carlos Diago, former president of the Caribbean Tourism Association (now CTO), called for support of a joint regional marketing effort, a plan that has been talked about for years.

"We must link suppliers and travel agents in a regional marketing campaign," Diago said. "Our priorities should be education, financing and the expansion of transportation and communications within the region as a whole."

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