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Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference gets underway

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – The Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Investment Conference got underway yesterday in Montego Bay, Jamaica and is scheduled to run through May 12.

CTO SG Hugh Riley addresses the opening of hotel and tourism investment conference:

I speak to you on behalf of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, the Hon. Ricky Skerritt who could not be here today because of pressing matters of state in St. Kitts & Nevis where he is the Minister of Tourism.

However the Chairman sends his regards and his best wishes for a successful conference.

Of course, success in an event such as this has a wide range of interpretations, beginning no doubt, with our own understanding of what the objectives are for an investment conference such as this.

In some circumstances, success is defined by the number of contracts that are signed at an event; but of course that more clearly typifies a buying and selling environment than one in which long-term strategies and far-reaching understanding is the goal.

Sometimes, we define success at industry events as having the room packed to the rafters; but even then the question could be raised as to what percentage of the audience is really ideal for the message being transmitted.

And so on this particular occasion, we at the CTO and our partners at the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association, are indebted to the host country Jamaica, for the gracious hospitality and splendid arrangements that have been made on our behalf, for the efforts of all those who brought us to this point, and for our friends in the media and the technology experts who will ensure that our deliberations over the next two days reach the right audiences, whether they are here, or in some other environment.

So what is it that we hope to achieve?

First, let’s look briefly at the environment in which we function: Within the last few months alone, the world has been a place of turmoil. Political unrest, economic instability, natural disasters, and the ongoing threat of terrorism. And not too surprisingly, it is all inextricably linked together.

The impact of instability on the price of oil, and therefore on the price of a vacation and everything else; the adverse effect on consumer confidence; the unwillingness to travel at certain times, to certain places, or the decision not to travel at all.

In fact, the fear of traveling can have such a paralyzing effect that the results are as devastating as any disaster.

Luckily for the tourism industry the right to travel supersedes the ability of any event to impose a permanent halt on travel.

But the fact remains that heavy investment in troubled parts of the world brings with it an inherent risk.

Fortunately for the Caribbean, one of our major assets is stability.

The notion that in the cauldron of international turmoil there’s a place of peace and tranquility, is what led to the creation of the tagline Life Needs the Caribbean – a statement that is even more meaningful today than at the time when it was developed almost ten years ago.

And frankly, although the advertising was aimed at regular vacationers of any economic means, it could just as easily be adapted this evening to read Investment Needs The Caribbean.

Of course, the Caribbean needs investment too, and that after all is why we’re here.

Conferences such as this perform the very necessary function of bringing parties of common interest together.

The event helps to determine how best to transform interest into action and investment into profit.

And being profitable is itself the catalyst for an assortment of chain reactions, among them the fact that profit inspires further investment, creates jobs, builds confidence, engenders a spirit of entrepreneurship in local populations, increases the appetite for reasonable risk, and enhances the overall well-being of our people.

Thankfully, gone are the days when Caribbean people considered investment in the tourism industry to be a dream beyond their reach.

This country – Jamaica – and the entire Region are replete with examples of local and regional entrepreneurs who have seized the opportunity to sit at the controls of their own destiny, realizing that not only is it their right to do so, but that their actions also help to inspire others, locally as well as internationally.

Nothing builds confidence in the marketplace like seeing locals put their money where their mouth is.

Of course, let us also be clear that the goal is also to attract established brands and to find resources from beyond our own borders! Brands build muscle by working out with – and alongside other brands. Strong brands and the resources they bring – are what the Caribbean needs in order to sustain success.

Many years ago the notion of a strong brand would conjure up images that were not always welcomed. Strong brands meant domination; and domination naturally created fear.

Today, businesses in the Caribbean and worldwide have seized on the idea of strength through collaboration; through mergers, alliances and partnerships. And we must do the same whenever the opportunity presents itself.

In the airline industry alone in recent months we’ve seen significant strategic alliances between American Airlines, British Airways and Iberia. United Continental Holdings has merged into the being the world’s largest airline by traffic.

And it now appears likely that the merger plans between carriers in Chile, Brazil and Colombia, will result in a new airline possibly flying by the end of the year, becoming the largest airline in Latin America and potentially a big player in providing more direct services from South America to the Caribbean.

It is our wish that similar collaboration in the airline industry within the Caribbean, will eventually result in strong, stable, reliable, affordable – and yes profitable – air service throughout this region.

Investors in Caribbean tourism come into an environment where the public and private sector work closely together to tackle issues that would threaten the competitiveness of the industry; the problematic Air Passenger Duty is a good example.

Investors in Caribbean tourism will find that the public and private sector work together to approach funding agencies and secure resources that reduce our energy bills and increase our profitability; the current Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Program is a good example.

Investors in Caribbean tourism come into an environment where the region is today forging ahead with programs that tackle the vexing problem of service standards throughout the hospitality industry. The introduction this year of a Total Visitor Satisfaction rating will measure and perfect the quality of the experience we deliver to our visitors here in the Caribbean. Ladies and gentlemen, the Caribbean tourism industry is moving forward.

As a young man starting out, I was always intrigued that financial advisors would often refer to investments as vehicles; they’d come to the house to try and sell you “investment vehicles” – apparently indicating in a sense that these investments would take you somewhere.

And then many years later the famous Warren Buffet took the vehicle analogy a step further, when he said:

“In the business world, the rearview mirror is always clearer than the windshield.” I agree. As unclear as the future often is, we get no where by looking back.

During the next two days we’ll be keen to discuss all types of investment vehicles that are suitable for our industry. And we look forward to the success of this conference.

Hugh Riley

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