The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, as most Caribbean countries are characterized by a lack of output and export diversification as government policy is centered on increasing tourism arrivals, more so than their other key industries such as agriculture, fisheries, oil, nickel, alumina and bauxite. Tourism, has therefore, become the principal contributor to; income, employment, foreign exchange and economic growth in the Caribbean. The World Travel and Tourism Council indicated that, travel and tourism in the Caribbean plays a proportionally stronger role in GDP and employment, than any other comparable region and brings the majority of hard currency earnings to the region. According to the World Travel and Tourism Council (2015) in 2014, tourism directly accounted for 3.8% of real growth and 3.9% total contributions to GDP, this has been forecast to increase in 2017 to 4.0%, generating revenues of US$15.8bn to the region, travel and tourism, also directly to employment, accounting for 2.8% of real growth employing over 19 million in the Caribbean.
Challenges and Trends
There are a number of trends affecting Caribbean tourism sector. Over the past decade, globalization, social media and ease of travel, have led to a rise of global players, intensified competition and innovative marketing campaigns. This has resulted in a loss of market share for the long established tourist destinations of the Caribbean and has had a major impact on the Caribbean’s’ financial stability leading to downgrades by Standards and Poor (McGraw Hill Financial, 2015). Caribbean economies are witnessing no growth, minuscule increases or decline in tourist expenditure and receipts.
Caribbean destinations are no longer competing with each other; they are competing globally with emerging tourism destinations such as Sao Tome & Principe, Qatar, Myanmar, Sudan to name a few. Destinations are now investing in airport expansions to position themselves as international hubs, wooing airlines to increase flights and using social media to help travelers decide on their next trip. Another recent trend is on enhancing visitor experience (experiential tourism) and improving the quality of service in the tourism sector. Tourists today place a lot of value on high quality service delivered in an efficient and timely manner with a smile. Tourist in so far, are not concerned so much with the price of services but rather in “value for money”. Hence, Experiential Tourism- one that brings satisfaction, great memories and happy feelings- is worth more.
Another trend of note is focusing on Sustainable Tourism Development, as a catch all phrase, (Liu, 2003) for developing niche tourism markets. It is argued that for tourism development to be truly sustainable, it must take into account not only environmental factors but socio-cultural considerations as well as environmental and socio-cultural changes which should mostly be determined and carried out by those who have to live with those changes. These key stakeholders are the local communities as they are the true recipients of tourist flows. This is made up of governmental organizations; as the policy planners and managers of the activity, and the private sector; as the providers of the service. Their roles are to agree upon the limits of changes necessary and the resources they can commit towards improving not only the infrastructure of the host country but the health and well being of its people and their guests as health, safety and security play a huge role in the tourism sector.