Hugh Riley of the C’bean Tourism Organisation in Basseterre on the State of the Industry
What an exciting time we live in.
True, we are experiencing the toughest economic conditions since the Great Depression; and this environment has certainly created challenges that are new to all of us. But that’s the hand we’ve been dealt and we must figure out how to play it.
We must assemble all the creativity, discipline and collective resources we have, and use them wisely for the good of this region.
We have to determine what it takes for small, vulnerable tourism economies to effectively compete in an arena that is populated by large industrialized countries with vastly superior budgets and the power to pass legislation that discriminates against us, impacts our competitive position and further shifts the balance of power in the direction of the already powerful.
The good news is that we in the Caribbean have more than a few cards to play. We in this cluster of small populations are bold enough to assemble and decide that we can come together as One Caribbean, enlist some of this industry’s sharpest minds, elect leaders, thrash out ideas and mold them into actions that allow us to win in this environment.
One of the challenges of any network – new or traditional – is to stay relevant to its members; and as obvious as that sounds, it presents a number of interesting challenges especially for a network like the CTO. What is relevant to our French-speaking members might not necessarily mean the same to the Dutch; and what’s of critical importance in Caracas might not resonate as well in Castries; so the task of developing strategies that are tailor made to suit a disparate collection of national needs, starts with an understanding that we must create an organization that is fit enough, nimble enough, astute enough and most of all capable enough to stick that collage together and produce a Caribbean Tourism Organization that is able to lead the whole region to become the most desirable, year-round warm weather destination, in five years.
During the past several months the CTO has gone through a period of thorough examination; a process of organizational review mandated and endorsed by our governments and involving every category of membership.
The CTO has been lifted by its ankles and shaken vigorously to see whatever falls off. At times it was painful and difficult; sometimes downright embarrassing to realize that we might have been doing things that were relevant a few years ago, but that are no longer current, and no longer matter to the people we serve. So relevance and currency are inextricably tied together.
That’s why our new vision for the CTO and the actions that flow from it, are time-sensitive, measurable, and specific. And they involve every single employee, of every office of the organization. Every one of us is responsible for delivering the mission, and each one of us is held accountable for it.
That’s what I meant at the beginning about being in an exciting time; it’s a time of change for the benefit of our region; change which will make us stronger; change which we must embrace, or else we’ll be left behind.
Many of us in the room can identify with another important component of the strengthening process I’ve just described. It’s the necessity to be a good, strong parent and to provide the guidance and direction our offspring need. So permit me to use this analogy to make a point.
Several years ago the CTO and the CHTA produced an offspring which we named CTDC: the Caribbean Tourism Development Company. Simply put, that company was born out of a philosophy that the people of the Caribbean had been advocating for years, and an idea which the rest of the world has openly embraced: it’s the notion of public/private partnerships. The pooling of talent and resources, the blend of product and policy to create a business-focused, marketing entity that boasts the DNA of a region with a history of producing champions.
Much of the credit for that belongs to Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace and the visionaries who conceived the idea of the CTDC in 2006 – and in more recent times, to Ricky Skerritt and Josef Forstmayr who understood that part of growing up is sometimes stumbling and seeking parental support and learning and getting up and trying again.
The responsibility for nurturing this idea into a fierce competitor to take on the rest of the world, now belongs to all of us. We cannot let this opportunity slip through our fingers.
Ladies and gentlemen, if we achieve nothing else in this entire conference I hope it is this: Let us accept that developing a winning strategy for a mosaic of products and cultures across a diverse collection of agendas, is not a solo event; it is a sustained, collaborative exercise involving the combined resources of a very powerful and talented region.
It is an understanding that One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean means more than just agreeing at a meeting and then getting back to each one doing his own separate thing; it is an acceptance that there is logic in what the rest of the world is doing through collaboration and mergers and unifying and strengthening their voices; it is a commitment to the vision that together as one region, we can be and MUST be, the most desirable, year-round warm weather destination by 2017.