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Ten important world tourism issues for 2019

Most tourism academics across the globe are members of the Tourism Research Information Network (TRINET) based at University of Hawaii School of Travel Industry Management, and so am I. Over the past several months, many of my discussions in this column have been well debated in this network of tourism professors across the globe. Every year Dr. David L. Edgell Sr. – a professor of trade, tourism and economic development at the College of Business, School of Hospitality Leadership and a research scholar in sustainable tourism from East Carolina University – debates the ten important world tourism issues for the year in TRINET.

For the past many years, sustainable tourism remains at the top of the list, as there have been numerous discussions across the globe about “over-tourism”. Safety and security continue to be very important in light of the terrorist attacks we have had in recent months and years. Global economic conditions, in third place, appear to be heating up with several global economists raising the possibility of a mini-recession in the near future. Let us look at the ten important world tourism issues and where we are in The Bahamas in relation to these issues.

Issue 1: Maintaining a destination’s sustainable tourism development (economic, social/cultural, natural and built resources). The issue of sustainable tourism and responsible tourism has been well discussed in the past eight issues of this column. Adapting the various models of the three-pillars of sustainability is critical in all tourism development in The Bahamas. Are the economy and social the most important pillars for a destination’s sustainability, or is it the environment? The Lighthouse Point in Eleuthera dealt with this complicated issue. Thus, the question of “over-tourism” has been a challenge in many destinations. Quantity tourist versus quality tourist – too many tourists may be a subjective term, but it is defined in each destination by local residents, hosts, business owners and tourists. It is dangerous for a nation to focus almost exclusively on growth with little or no concern for the impact of that growth.

Issue 2: Concerns for safety and security. As indicated by Joy Jibrilu, director general at the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism, on October 17, 2018, “safety cannot be touted as a benefit to visiting any destination. It is a basic human right”. She further added that crime and, more importantly, the perception of crime, is an attack on the tourism industry. It is essential that a major tourist destination maintain its reputation as a generally peaceful, safe and secure place to visit. As a result, the regular negative travel advisories by cruise liners stopping over in The Bahamas remain a concern for the industry. As a nation, we need to do our part to ensure the safety of all tourists as well as residents. The number of crimes involving a tourist may be negligible, but the impact is great when even one tourist is attacked. Thus, concerns for safety and security remain an important issue within the global travel and tourism industry in general, and The Bahamas in particular.

Issue 3: Impact on the travel and tourism industry resulting from global economic, social/cultural and political directions. I discussed this issue in length in my last two issues of this column. Finding the right balance on the three-pillars of sustainability is as important as ensuring the political direction of the country. Openness to globalization will, on its own, deliver economic growth. For globalization to be able to work, a country cannot be saddled with problems endemic to many developing countries, from a corrupt political class, to poor infrastructure and macroeconomic instability. To boast the travel and tourism industry, economically and socio-culturally, any country including The Bahamas cannot remain in isolation. Is the deal with the World Trade Organization (WTO) the way forward for The Bahamas? This issue has been well debated and continues to be scrutinized. It is hoped that the government will make an informed decision with continued engagement with all parties that will be impacted.

Issue 4: Responding to increased interest of the long-term impacts on tourism due to climate change and global warming. This is a critical issue that has to be dealt with by an archipelagic nation like The Bahamas. We need to consider how future tourism development affects our vulnerabilities to climate change which include loss of coral reefs, more intense hurricanes, sea level rise and negative impacts to our water reservoirs. Studies have shown that if the sea level rises some five feet, 80 percent of the country will disappear. Tourism, the biggest industry, needs to play a more significant role in maintaining sustainable tourism development in its rush to expand the industry further. The Bahamas needs to play a more leading role in championing this issue.

Issue 5: Necessity for increased local/regional/national/international leadership in tourism policy and strategic planning. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Agenda 2030 is an important glocal agenda that can increase local, regional, national and international leadership for the nation. Glocalization (a combination of globalization and localization) is the adaptation or creation of international products or services around the particularities of a local culture in which they are sold. In short, a glocal approach makes global knowledge local. Thus, there is the necessity for increased local and international partnerships in tourism policy and strategic planning.

The government recognizes that although it plays a central role in development, partnerships between governments and non-state actors such as civil society, the private sector, local and religious leaders are necessary for the achievement of sustainable development. A legislative framework for Civil Society development and a formal policy on Civil Society engagement is critical. Similarly, strengthening global partnerships is crucial for the continued success of tourism in The Bahamas.

Issue 6: Resolving barriers to travel: Visas, passports, immigration issues, airline services, fees and delays. This situation has been getting far more complicated for a number of developing countries. Nowadays, traveling not only to the U.S. but also to any other developed country is more and more difficult for the citizens of developing countries. A one-way tourism flow (from developed to developing countries) is the norm; this is neither fair nor conducive to mutual understanding between peoples. As of July 9, 2018, Bahamian citizens had visa-free or visa-on-arrival access to 155 countries and territories, ranking the Bahamian passport 22nd in terms of travel freedom according to the Henley visa restrictions index. Thus, this may not be an issue for outbound travelers, but how about the inbound? Are we managing this issue efficiently at our major tourist entry points?

Issue 7: Educating travelers and businesses in optimizing the application of new technologies, within the tourism industry. This is an important issue with which all destinations, including The Bahamas, have to be prepared. All nations are now dealing with millennials (individuals who reached adulthood around the turn of the 21st century) who are travelling extensively. Thus, the country must be well connected with the expectations of modern day tourists especially with regard to optimizing the application of new technologies pre, during and post travel. This is essential for a great experience for these tourists.

Issue 8: Maintaining a sustainable, engaged, skilled and experienced workforce in order to deliver quality tourism experiences (workforce issues). At the end of the day, all of the issues discussed here will boil down to these fundamental issues of capacity. As a nation, we need a continuous means of developing the skills required for a tourism industry that is rapidly evolving. Despite ubiquitous taglines such as “it’s a people business”, “people are our greatest asset” and “it’s the people that make the place”, it is amazing how workforce issues are rarely debated at tourism conferences. One of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 8) is “Decent work and economic growth” for all, and tourism has often been identified as a catalyst for economic development that creates employment. In these times of increased mobility amidst rising nationalism and sentiments that resist immigration, alongside reduced willingness amongst the increasingly affluent to engage in manual (menial?) repetitive labour, one has to wonder who will serve/deliver quality experiences to the burgeoning numbers of tourists in this high contact/high touch global industry? According to the World Travel and Tourism Council in 2018, the tourism sector provides one in 11 jobs worldwide, yet workforce interests are rarely highlighted in the sustainable tourism debate. The vulnerability of precarious workers in our industry is becoming more acute by the day. The role of higher education institutions like the University of The Bahamas is critical to producing the future workforce of the industry.

Issue 9: Effect on travel and tourism from natural/human-induced disasters, health issues and political disruptions. In today’s unpredictable world, disasters can take many different forms and durations. Many of these catastrophes are unavoidable. Thus, the effect of natural/human-induced disasters, including health issues and political disruptions in travel and tourism, can destroy a destination. Powerful natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes and earthquakes can wipe out a destination in minutes. Unfortunately, The Bahamas is in the hurricane zone. Thus, plans to reduce the impact of hurricanes have to be in place and continuously improved so that the country can bounce back immediately after such disasters. Human-induced disasters, especially those due to political instability, will erode the confidence of tourists and potential tourism investment in the country. In my last two issues in this column (read January 25 and February 22), I discussed in length the importance of the government’s role in managing the political environment and destination governance.

Issue 10: Utilize tourism as a vehicle for bringing indigenous and rural populations out of their state of oppression and marginalization. True sustainability of a destination cannot be achieved until indigenous and rural populations have been brought into a better condition of well-being, along with their lands. This is definitely a very important issue in The Bahamas as we continue to ensure “No one is left behind” (as highlighted in the Sustainable Development Goals) in all these developments. In the big money-making capital business of tourism, these vulnerable communities are too many times left aside or, even worse, get a new wave of colonialism through tourism. The emphasis now needs to be on the delivery of high quality visitor experiences; but not at the expense of these local communities. There must be a shift to experience development planning and more emphasis on story-telling and narrative development, not only to engage visitors but also to educate them about local communities and the environment. Tourism can and should be used as a vehicle to benefit hosts who are typically marginalized and oftentimes exploited. Community-based tourism is certainly one of the approaches that has tremendous opportunities in The Bahamas.

Conclusion

In summary, the ten issues discussed here are major dilemmas facing the world today. Every actor and stakeholder in the tourism network must play their role to overcome all of these issues. As visitors and tourists ourselves, we also need to ensure that our own behaviour is as positive and as beneficial as possible in any destination to which we travel. Nonetheless, to really effect change across the industry and around the world, including here in The Bahamas, things need to happen at a much higher level. The government of the day has to play an important role to effectively govern the industry (and not just to look good to stay in power for the next election) and also not get distracted by parties whose agenda is just to fail the government’s agenda. It is hoped that all of the ten issues highlighted for 2019 will always be in our minds as all stakeholders continue to grow a sustainable tourism industry in The Bahamas.

 

• Dr. Vikneswaran Nair is the dean of graduate studies and research and a professor of sustainable tourism at the University of The Bahamas. 

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