The Star (St. Lucia) - - REGIONAL -

As we look back over 2018 and look for­ward to the New Year, I am re­minded of the C.S. Lewis quote: “There are far, far bet­ter things ahead than any we leave be­hind.” Our re­gion’s rich tourism past and our many suc­cesses have served us well, pro­vid­ing a sound foun­da­tion for the fu­ture.

Look­ing ahead, I have a real sense of op­ti­mism about our op­por­tu­ni­ties if we learn from the past, stay clearly fo­cused on the fu­ture and ap­pre­ci­ate the crit­i­cal im­por­tance of rein­vent­ing and im­prov­ing our busi­nesses, our pro­cesses and our peo­ple. We must be nim­ble, adapt­able and in­no­va­tive in this era of con­stant change.

This past year re­minded us of how re­silient our peo­ple and our in­dus­try are, as a num­ber of the re­gion’s des­ti­na­tions and ho­tels bounced back from un­par­al­leled de­struc­tion in 2017, re­build­ing smarter, bet­ter and some­times big­ger. We got a peek into the fu­ture as over 5,000 new ho­tel rooms came on­line re­gion­ally in 2018 with over 25,000 more in the con­struc­tion and plan­ning stages. Ex­ist­ing ho­tels con­tinue to in­vest in re­fur­bish­ments and in­tro­duc­ing new ser­vices and ameni­ties. We wit­nessed an un­prece­dented surge in new air­lift into the re­gion, pre­sent­ing more op­por­tu­ni­ties to en­tice trav­ellers to our shores. In­vestor and govern­ment con­fi­dence in Caribbean tourism’s fu­ture was fur­ther buoyed as hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars were spent on upgraded and ex­panded air­port fa­cil­i­ties.

Our glass is half full. Are we pour­ing or drink­ing? How do we con­tin­u­ally adapt in an era of ac­cel­er­ated change when tech­nol­ogy, com­pe­ti­tion, con­sumer ex­pec­ta­tions, eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty and cli­mate change chal­lenge us? These are all ex­ter­nal fac­tors over which we have lit­tle sway. Or do we?

The “abun­dance of op­por­tu­nity” lies within our­selves. Through our com­pa­nies, desti­na­tion DMOs, Na­tional Ho­tel and Tourism As­so­ci­a­tions, and re­gional stake­holder groups like CHTA and the Caribbean Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion, own­ers, op­er­a­tors, govern­ment part­ners, and in­di­vid­u­als have an even greater ca­pac­ity to pos­i­tively and col­lec­tively im­pact tourism’s fu­ture and our bot­tom lines. How will­ing are we to “give back” in or­der to “get back”? Are we as in­di­vid­u­als and com­pa­nies tak­ing “own­er­ship” in our in­dus­try by be­ing en­gaged and sup­port­ive be­yond the day-to-day chal­lenges of op­er­at­ing our busi­nesses?

It is amaz­ing what can be achieved through a com­mit­ment to co­op­er­a­tion, col­lab­o­ra­tion, open com­mu­ni­ca­tion and mu­tual re­spect—we have all of the nec­es­sary el­e­ments in our com­mu­ni­ties, busi­nesses, gov­ern­ments and des­ti­na­tions to ex­cel and to lead as the world’s most de­sir­able tourism re­gion.

Let us in 2019 com­mit to rec­og­niz­ing and de­vel­op­ing tal­ent wher­ever we see it; to crit­i­cally as­sess­ing our pro­cesses in both the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors to make sure that they fa­cil­i­tate more than re­strict; to us­ing all means pos­si­ble to in­form and ed­u­cate our peo­ple about the value and im­por­tance of tourism to our re­gion and the crit­i­cal role that they play in its suc­cess; and most im­por­tantly, to do­ing what­ever we can to en­gen­der a greater sense of pride and care in our peo­ple, our en­vi­ron­ment and our re­gion as a whole. There is great power in the col­lec­tive. As tourism stake­hold­ers, let’s work to bet­ter har­ness this.

I’m so grate­ful to be sur­rounded by a corps of vol­un­teers re­gion­ally and lo­cally in Bar­ba­dos who lead by ex­am­ple, con­tribut­ing their time, ex­per­tise and fi­nan­cial re­sources to ad­dress the many chal­lenges which our in­dus­try faces. You’ve taken “own­er­ship” and in­deed, you’ve ex­em­pli­fied through your ac­tions that CHTA and your lo­cal NHTA are “My CHTA” and “My NHTA”. Thank you to all of our great vol­un­teers and sup­port­ers!

It’s this spirit of giv­ing that helps to re­move bar­ri­ers to busi­ness devel­op­ment; ad­vo­cates for poli­cies which stim­u­late rather than sup­press our in­dus­try’s growth and devel­op­ment; sup­ports in­vest­ments in our peo­ple through groups like the CHTA Ed­u­ca­tion Foun­da­tion (please make your room do­na­tion now to The New York Times Travel Show auc­tion fundraiser if you haven’t al­ready); and sup­ports lo­cal and re­gional mar­ket­ing and pub­lic re­la­tions ef­forts to pro­tect and en­hance the lo­cal and Caribbean brands. These are mat­ters which af­fect each of us and which we have a moral and busi­ness re­spon­si­bil­ity to sup­port.

I can only imag­ine what the present and fu­ture would be like if not for the work of our in­dus­try’s in­sti­tu­tions like CHTA. This is what gives me con­fi­dence in know­ing that in­deed there are “far, far bet­ter things ahead”.

I look for­ward to see­ing ev­ery­one at Caribbean Travel Mar­ket­place and re­lated events later this Jan­uary in Montego Bay. I en­cour­age you to reg­is­ter for Mar­ket­place to­day if you’ve not al­ready done so.

Best wishes for a fun and pros­per­ous 2019!

Pa­tri­cia Affonso-Dass (pic­tured) high­lights Caribbean tourism’s re­silience as she makes her New Year ad­dress.

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