CMEx connects the Caribbean

By Bevan Springer

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – The Diaspora represents a multi-million dollar opportunity for the Caribbean, and maximizing the financial, intellectual and creative potential of this market will take center stage when Counterpart International’s Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx) opens at the Holiday Inn in Isla Verde, Puerto Rico on Thursday, May 15 under the theme “Embracing the Diaspora, Connecting Communities.”

Back in 2001, Senator Allen Chastanet, St. Lucia’s Minister of Tourism and Civil Aviation who at the time was a member of the Caribbean Diaspora while leading the marketing charge at Air Jamaica, had a vision of bringing together media practitioners at home and abroad along with tourism officials to engage in discussions that would increase awareness of both the importance of the region’s top earner and the priorities of regional media houses.

Some of the objectives were to equip journalists and editors with the tools to cover the intricacies of the industry such as the environment, marketing and regional aviation topics.

Developing a corps of media operatives who would dig deeper into the story, go beyond the press release, challenge a Minister’s press statements or a developer’s unsustainable practices was an essential part of the CMEx mission – then and now.

Almost seven years later the progress has been good, but there is much more work to do given today’s era of digital media and citizen journalism trends that are thrusting more people into the role of communicating the news. Add to that the large number of teenagers and young people who are taking a serious interest in tourism reporting and journalism, and the need for serious discourse in this arena becomes apparent.

In a welcome message ahead of this week’s meeting Terestella González Denton, Executive Director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company said, through the years CMEx has helped to elevate the importance of tourism to Caribbean nations. “We at the Puerto Rico Tourism Company are impressed with the increasing quantity and quality of reports on tourism as media operatives are clearly becoming more in tune with an industry that drives the economy of our Caribbean region. In Puerto Rico, sustainability is what we practise and while it has been central to our plans and programs, meetings like CMEx help to sharpen our focus in today’s rapidly changing travel and tourism industry.”

St. Lucia Tourist Board consultant Dr. James Hepple in his previous position as Trinidad and Tobago’s tourism director, said, “I have been involved with CMEx since its inception and have seen it become one of the most influential forums for presenting the value and importance of Caribbean tourism to not only local journalists but those based outside the Caribbean. As a Director of Tourism I find it invaluable that we can send our own (Trinidadian) journalists to CMEx and they come back understanding the industry that much better resulting in more informed coverage of our local tourism industry.”

Clive Bacchus, General Manager of WINN FM in St. Kitts and Nevis, comments that “while tourism remains our number one regional industry, its complexities need clear ventilation, deep understanding and close attention at the highest policy levels and more ownership at the grassroots level. CMEx empowers the media and the people of the Caribbean and the Diaspora while building bridges that last a lifetime.”

Over the years, the support CMEx has received from the public and private sectors and the region’s fourth estate has been encouraging; and the outcomes reported by the delegates inspire us to carry on.

Jayne Wise, Senior Editor at National Geographic Traveler, comments that “the CMEx forum has been one of the liveliest, most candid, most probing, and most engaging dialogues I have participated in. As an editor on a U.S. travel magazine, I have learned so much about issues facing the Caribbean region, especially as it commits itself to sustainable models of development and tourism. One of Earth’s most fragile – and most desirable – destinations, the Caribbean faces extraordinary challenges in developing new paradigms for tourism. The CMEx forum has created a place where dialogue and debate have led to innovative ideas and solutions. It has also enhanced the dialogue between members of the Caribbean media and those of us covering the Caribbean from the point of view of a North American traveler.”

From the implementation of HIV education programs in Jamaica and Haiti to a coral reef restoration program in the Dominican Republic some of the outcomes of CMEx have been unexpected, revealing the huge networking potential of these meetings.

As we embrace the Diaspora and connect with communities this week, who knows what future partnerships will emerge as delegates get together again to gain a better understanding of the anatomy of key issues affecting us?

One thing for sure, is that it will be very exciting to brainstorm new and exciting ideas that can contribute to the health and wealth of region.

Bevan Springer, the director of Counterpart International’s Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx), is a journalist and communications advisor.

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