Friday, June 22, 2007

If I were a Caribbean Tourism or Development Minister

Last week, in Washington, during the Conference on the Caribbean, “A 20/20 Vision” organized by Caricom, there was one session in which I felt that the possible effects of climate change for the Islands were hair-raisingly described in terms of a Titanic’s iceberg, and which would force the region to make the hard choices of whether investing in lifeboats (adaptation) or in let’s-have-fun-while-it-lasts farewell parties. To make the environmental challenge even more daunting most of the region has also to battle with scarcity of energy

Many years ago, in the Caribbean, I saw a bottle that though it contained a liquid of a quite dubious quality, with unashamed pride blasted out on the label a “Guaranteed 100% Artificial”, and ever since I have considered the aggressive framing of something that could be negative in overly positive terms as a marketing masterpiece; and I therefore immediately had visions of concepts such as a “Guaranteed 100% car free island”. Careful though, there are very clear and present dangers in having authorities fall into the temptation of imposing or overly supporting a vision.

Since the prices of environmental and energy limitations are in the short term most certainly below their long term cost, what the Caribbean needs is a framework that emits clearer and more sustainable signals to the market. In this respect, and as a professional experienced in strategic studies, such as of the tourism sector, I summarize below what I jolted down on a paper during the conference about what I would do if I were a Caribbean Tourist Minister

1. Given that there is an environmental (and energy) limit of how many rooms any island can sustain, I would at any cost avoid the temptations of building rooms just for building, and instead assure a system that maximizes the benefit per room obtained for the whole island. There are many ways of measuring island benefits per room but the clearest approximation must be the salaries that a room generates for the local people employed in the tourism sector.

2. To achieve the previous there is a need to impose a strict limit on the number of hotel rooms allowed on each island, and a mechanism that guarantees that those rooms that do not meet a specified and over time increasing island benefit target are closed down through legal expropriation procedure that guarantees of course the payment of reasonable indemnities.

3. Projects for the new rooms to substitute for those closed should be submitted for approval to a Committee with an ample societal representation and where the individual votes of its members are made public. The selection criteria for the approval is how well a project is able to demonstrate that it will be able to meet the current minimum level of island benefit, and thereafter how much it could help the rest of the tourism sector. All the approved projects would count with a minimum period before their results are competitively measured, for instance construction plus three years.

4. The owners of the physical installations are of course the prime beneficiaries of the investment returns but since the objective is to maximize island benefit per room, the Ministry also needs to support the efforts of the local tourism promoters in developing special market niches, by for instance encouraging and supervising a system of revenue sharing.

5. Given the room scarcity concept imposed, the marketing efforts, instead of a wide and general should be much more focused so as to obtain the best possible result, for each week of the year. Modern technology allows for this kind of micro-niche marketing and the government should support it. For instance selling a hotel to just one city in England during a specific month of the year, instead to the whole England all of the year, could help to create that added exclusivity value that maximizes the island benefit per room.

Friends, while trying to make our lives more liveable, let us also try to make them more sustainable… in fact that is also “Guaranteed, 100% fun”.