It is difficult to reflect upon a year which many of us would rather forget and, in particular, would wish for the month of September never to have happened. But happen it did. As if our regional challenges with Zika had not been enough, two Category 5 storms put us to the test as never before - a test for our region, our governments, our people and, also, for CHTA.
As we came together to deal with these challenges and their consequences, we embraced our oneness and were inspired to create the One Caribbean Family initiative, encouraging international and regional tourism communities to pledge their support.
It was heartening to see some of our global partners and members from the many parts of our region untouched by the storms rally to help damaged destinations heal. The road to recovery will take some time and I hope that the One Caribbean Family spirit will live on as there is plenty left to do
We are thankful for the partnership with Tourism Cares and look forward to strengthening our One Caribbean Family initiative as we restore confidence in the region, not only among potential travelers, but also for future generations who wish to live and work in the Caribbean. And for these generations, we need to create jobs as well as educational and training opportunities.
We need to build resilience into our infrastructure and communities in the months ahead. Indeed, adaptation to climate change is no longer an option, but an urgent necessity. We will use the knowledge gained from dealing with these unprecedented storms and flooding to make us better prepared for whatever weather-related events the future holds.
Speaking of the future, let's bring back the linemen, construction workers, engineers and other relief workers who were central to the recovery efforts - and their families - to show them our gratitude.
We saw how unified approaches enable us to recover and to become more resilient - so now, let's use that knowledge and experience and make our sector more resilient and find strengthened and unified approaches to marketing, branding and promotion.
In this regard, we are resolved to strengthen our regional marketing efforts as we continue to appreciate that a rising tide lifts all boats. Our previous failure to act on this front was evident when we saw the damage caused when some members of the international media were unable to recognize how much of the Caribbean was not affected by the September storms.
The hurricanes spared most of our tourism destinations, but a number of reports, some of which continue to gain publicity, unfortunately conveyed the impression the entire Caribbean was shut down. But, as we know, even the minority of destinations hit by the storms are now welcoming visitors for the winter season. And many travelers understand the best way to help the affected destinations is to visit them and allow their tourism dollars to go straight to the local populations who are working hard to restore services.
Not everyone in our industry, including tourism authorities and governments in the Caribbean, is convinced that a regional marketing initiative is needed. Some are unaware that a Caribbean brand exists. I feel compelled to note that the press coverage after the hurricanes has shown us that we are being identified as a brand whether we believe in such a brand or not. Therefore, we must be able to act and, more important, react when that brand is threatened.
We have been talking about public-private partnerships to promote tourism and make it the main economic driver for years, but it is time to put some sustained funding behind these well-meaning words and finally make it happen. And whilst the discussion is currently centered on CARICOM (Caribbean Community) jurisdictions, we at the CHTA call for this to become a pan-Caribbean effort.
As I took on the presidency of this association two years ago, I created a number of goals for myself, not unlike the resolutions we often create at the beginning of each new year. Little did I know that so much of my time as president would be spent learning everything there is to know about types of mosquitoes and their breeding and flying behaviors, mosquito prevention strategies and, alas, the intricacies of disaster relief, crisis communications and climate change.
As I begin the last five months of my presidency of this incredible group of professionals that are part of our association, I look forward to welcoming the exceptional leadership of Patricia Affonso-Dass of the Ocean Hotels group in Barbados as she assumes the presidency of CHTA in June for the next two years. To her I say, may your presidency coincide with some calm after these storms.
Our collective work ahead includes:
- Raising our voice and our readiness to mitigate the impact of the effects of hurricanes, climate change, mosquito-borne diseases, political uncertainty, and other challenges facing our region;
- Focusing on the development of our people, including formally integrating the voice of the region's youth through a new CHTA governance mechanism;
- Putting in place a regional tourism communications and marketing initiative, which by example will convince more of our public and private sector stakeholders of the value of a sustained regional tourism marketing and development initiative;
- Unveiling our new strategic outline, which focuses on concerted action in the years ahead.
There is so much to be optimistic about in our beautiful region as we enter a new year after rising above such massive assaults.
Our weathering of these catastrophes enables us to welcome 2018 with the hope which survival often generates. Given the disruption we experienced in 2017, there is some irony in welcoming 2018 as the Year of Wellness and Rejuvenation, as designated by the Caribbean Tourism Organization. It is true that parts of our region are still dealing with the aftermath of historic storms and we have many challenges to address, but at the same time there is much to celebrate and be thankful for. Indeed, the Caribbean offers to the world the perfect environment to embrace wellness and respite.
Let's also celebrate our accomplishments to show the world how we have, like the mythical phoenix, risen from the very real ashes of last year's disasters to fly boldly and proudly into the golden promise of the new. Thanks again to CHTA's Director General and CEO Frank Comito and his stellar team, our members across the region, our international partners, colleagues and bloggers in the media, our committee and task force volunteers, and the Executives and Presidents of the National Hotel and Tourism Associations, for your efforts to keep the Caribbean top of mind and our tourism experience second to none in the world.
Happy New Year, everyone!
"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow."
- Albert Einstein
Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association