In almost every country in the Caribbean, tourism has been transformative.
As an economic driver, it has primarily outpaced other sectors to the extent that in much of the region the industry now generates the most substantial national share of GDP, delivers significant taxes and foreign exchange, and performs a critical social role as the largest direct and indirect private employer of labor.
Despite this relative success, the industry’s future should not be taken for granted.
While tourism globally is trending upward, recent reports suggest that this is not the likely trajectory for the Caribbean. According to the UN world tourism organization, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific region will by 2030 be experiencing much higher growth rates than the Caribbean.
This suggests that the region will always need to update its product, reflect changing demand and trends, and deliver quality and value for money while addressing environmental, social, economic and infrastructural challenges.
Among the many related issues that the industry and governments need jointly to address are the changing demand for skills, the need for greater upward labor mobility, and finding a way to ensure that all chain hotels train and promote many more men and women from the region to the top jobs.
These are problems that mostly stem from a dated view about Caribbean tourism, now requiring investors to pay much more attention to creating opportunities for personal and professional development and by providing role models for young people to aspire to as well.
This is not to suggest that employment should be on anything other than merit, nor is it to argue against the presence of talented expatriates. Instead, it is to indicate that if the Caribbean and employers genuinely want to benefit fully from the region’s premier industry, it will be essential that they and the region do much more in a well-considered way to train, encourage and promote an able, experienced Caribbean cadre of skilled staff and professionals.
Frank Comito, the CEO and director general of the Caribbean Hotels and Tourism Association (CHTA), says that while this is beginning to change there is much more to be done. Caribbean multinational companies like Sandals, he notes, have shown the way and women are starting to rise through the ranks so that before long there will be many more female leaders in management roles in the industry.
When it comes to senior management, he believes that the issue is principally with the international chains rather than small and medium-sized hotels, the overwhelming majority of which are managed, and often owned by Caribbean nationals.
In addition to Caribbean owned and managed Sandals, he cites Hilton and Marriott as having a history of making a conscious effort to hire and develop Caribbean managerial talent, to the extent that individuals from the region can now be found managing their hotels throughout the world. Their successful track record he says, should give confidence to others, particularly to the Spanish-based and increasingly China-based investors that the pool and potential pool of Caribbean managerial talent is there and that it is in their best interests to find and grow talent locally.
As with so much else in the Caribbean, developing skills in tourism needs the closer engagement of educational institutions at all levels, and the willingness of teachers to understand and inspire. It requires also the active involvement of the industry, the support of national hotel associations, and the engagement of international hotel chains in developing training programs across their global portfolio.
International development agencies also should be more aware and actively engaged in funding tourism-related education and training initiatives, such as the CHTA’s young leaders’ forum, which aims to identify and develop high flyers in the industry in their 30s and 40s.
For these reasons, it was heartening to see the University of the West Indies (UWI) hold a ground-breaking ceremony for a new facility on its western campus in Montego Bay which, the Pro Vice Chancellor and Principal of the Mona campus, Professor Dale Webber, says will offer studies in tourism within a world-class school of management.
Hopefully this will mean that when it comes to tourism, the UWI will not only amalgamate all tourism studies there, but as Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, has suggested, also give serious thought to the regional role a faculty of tourism might play in delivering a higher number of tourism professionals able eventually to manage and provide all of the future skills CARICOM needs.
In his remarks at the ground-breaking ceremony, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister noted that there was much more to do to take advantage of the emerging opportunities in tourism that exist, making it essential that all in the industry offer training that enables economic mobility.
What is evident in the region and internationally is that a very different group of skills are now required to enable tourism to respond to changing lifestyles and consumer demand, not least concerning the use of artificial intelligence in hotel management and the industry’s new-found data-driven approach to marketing. Likewise, there is a pressing need for the creation of a research capacity able to analyze trends and to predict future patterns and trends in tourism as well as for more extensive competencies in foreign languages.
Recently the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) pointed out that human capital shortages in the hospitality sector are growing globally. This suggests that this is just the moment when the industry, including the international hotel chains, the Caribbean’s universities and training academies, and the development agencies should be focusing on partnerships that develop the future technical and managerial skills that can create the labor mobility the industry will need.
The WTTC has also projected that tourism in the Caribbean will create over 0.5m new jobs over the next 10 years. Frank Comito observes that this indicates that the demand side opportunities exist and that tourism offers one of the best opportunities for professional growth and upward mobility.
“Over one in five jobs in our industry are supervisory and above, and require some level of post-secondary education,” he says. “It’s in industry’s and a country’s interest to work together to develop and elevate local talent.”
• David Jessop is a consultant to the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org. Published with the permission of Caribbean News Now.