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
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
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
"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
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."