News Americas, LONDON, England, Tues. May 12, 2015: In a previous column I suggested that as Caribbean tourism continues to recover from the lows it experienced following the global economic crisis of 2007/8, the industry ought to consider taking a much longer term view of how to reorient and develop the regional tourism offering so as to better reflect changing international demand for the authentic.
By this I meant that the present return to profitability ought to offer a space in which those who think about the future of the industry organize a retreat to debate whether there is a need to re-conceptualize Caribbean tourism, hotels and the tourism offering; that is to say in ways that meet changing demand and guarantee that the product is uniquely Caribbean, globally competitive and sustainable.
I suggested that one line of thought might involve thinking about developing part of the product in a vernacular manner that better reflects the real Caribbean.
Since first writing about this I have been happy to receive emails suggesting I expand the idea of the vernacular and what it might mean in the context of regional tourism.
By the vernacular in tourism I meant giving greater consideration to the genuine in the physical, cultural and social environment in which tourism takes place. Over simplified, while there is a place for Disney, the Hard Rock, and the Ritz Carltons, these offerings have nothing to do with the region. They bring visitors but they are based solely on generic global brands that have little to do with the nations in which such properties choose to locate.
Worse, in their desire to attract globally branded properties that put the destination on the map governments unintentionally imply these are benchmarks that all should aspire to. The effect is to promote emulation and a clash in its broadest sense with local culture, homogenizing architecture and cuisine, dumbing down entertainment and much else that is unique to the Caribbean.
This is not to suggest that achieving this in a rational and balanced way is easy, or even viable for certain parts of the tourism market, but if the Caribbean does not recognize that it has more to offer than a smart international hotel, with smart international cuisine, set on a white sand beach with a golf course, it is neither doing the country in which the property is located a service nor underwriting long-term competitiveness in an international market where almost everyone else is doing the same.
There are already in the region some interesting examples of how the vernacular might be achieved. At its most obvious the approach has tended to be in old colonial districts. At its most successful it is a few streets in the colonial part of old Havana, but it also exists in a number of largely upscale hotels and some restaurants in Barbados, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba.
This is not to set aside what the Caribbean already has, but to suggest that there is a need in future for a more creative approach that ensures that from the moment a visitor arrives they are not in a pastiche of the authentic.
This will not be easy. It requires the industry and government to consider how best to renew and develop the product in a manner that promotes the uniqueness of the Caribbean nations in which it is located.
There is now every reason to take a much longer term view on these and other issues, to look over the horizon, and to try to envisage what a competitive Caribbean tourism mix might look like in twenty years time.