By David Jessop, Dominican Today senior Op-Ed contributor Dominican Today News – Santo Domingo and Dominican Republic
Few would any longer argue against the centrality of tourism to the Caribbean economy. Thankfully, the days when officials in the region and beyond would suggest that tourism was too fickle a force to support diversification and spur development have long gone; albeit mainly through circumstance rather than conviction. It is now accepted that without the industry, much of the region would be in serious economic difficulty.
Despite this, tourism’s cross-cutting dynamics, and the often simple kinds of support it needs to remain competitive, the sector is still failing to attract the attention of policy makers and multilateral funding institutions.
This is hard to understand when over the past twenty years the structure of the Caribbean economy has been transformed from one that was agriculture-dependent and preference-based, to one where tourism, in all but a few nations, has become the essential provider of employment and national income; and, by extension, a principal source, directly or indirectly of the taxes that pay for public services from education and health care, to roads.
What is striking, in comparison to agriculture, which, essential as it is, contributes far less to GDP in most Caribbean nations, is how little detailed research and technical information is available on Caribbean tourism from which an informed view might develop.
For example it is astonishing that most Caribbean governments do not yet have full tourism satellite accounting (TSA); an approach that provides a globally accepted framework for measuring the direct contribution of the tourism sector to an economy. Such studies provide a complete picture of what the industry consumes nationally and how the tourism economy works in relation to the broader economy.
Its value is that its detail and breadth enable governments to use it not just to inform their planning process, but potentially, if well considered, how best to use tourism to stimulate future economic growth.