The biggest concern of any traveler is their safety and health while traveling. The hospitality industry, and hotel management is also concerned about the safety, security and health issues affecting guests, potential guests and employees. The tourism sector, comprises of mainly hotels, restaurants, cafes and bars, tour operators, attractions, camping grounds, canteens and catering, events and conferences , and it is one of the principal contributors to; income, employment, foreign exchange and economic growth, in the Caribbean. The sector is vulnerable to health, security and environmental challenges. Health, safety and environment issues pose serious threats and play a major role in tourism destination management, as these significantly influence the quality, competitiveness and sustainability of the tourism industry.
Threats to their safety are inclusive of food and water-borne illnesses (FBD, enteric diarrheal diseases and outbreaks such as SARs, H1N1 and Chikungunya, (CAREC, 2014). Other safety issues include increasing crime and violence, accidents and injuries; depleting natural resources for example water (droughts), environmental degradation and serious deficiencies in environmental sanitation and safety. For example, according to CARPHA, 2014, between the years 2000-2005, they were fifty-six (56) food-borne illnesses from hotels in 14 islands, affecting up to 2,600 guests causing an approximate loss of US$250 million. In 2012 a Norovirus outbreak (the winter vomiting bug) led to the closure of a hotel causing a US$17 million loss, to that hotel (Carpha,2014).
Non-communicable diseases affecting the tourism workforce in the Caribbean are strokes, cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity; caused by, poor diets; physical inactivity; harmful use of alcohol/tobacco and substance abuse. Increasing avoidable health costs over the years have also increased the incidence / impact of HIV/AIDS and the health of the tourism workforce in general. These are largely preventable through good systems of monitoring and response, changes in diet and lifestyle and training in food, safety and environmental management. Crisis such as these can and should be managed effectively in order to reduce economic damage and job losses leading to closures of attractions and or hotels. As a result of these trends the Caribbean Public Health Agency saw the need to create a regional tourism and health program and therefore joined forces with the Caribbean Tourism Organization.
Through a Memorandum of Understanding established on the 5th June 2014 the Caribbean Tourism Organization (C.T.O), and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) partnered for an initial two year period to promote health and safety protocols and practices in the tourism workplace in the Caribbean region, CARPHA and C.T.O are the two premier regional agencies for public health and tourism respectively in the Caribbean mandated by Caribbean governments to promote and protect the health of the Caribbean and to develop, in a sustainable manner, Caribbean tourism respectively.(www.onecaribbean.org, 2014) This collaboration is meant to ‘build the platform for addressing health and tourism issues though regional collective action’,(www.carpha.org , 2014) and is forecast by the Project Manager of Health and Tourism at CARPHA Dr Lisa Indar to take 3- 4 years to complete.
These agencies have seen the need to address these issues however, the private sector namely hotels and resorts continue to focus on their botttom line- their profits. Government and Private sector need to work together to contribute to improving safety and security and to reducing possible health risks for their guests.