By Bevan Springer
NEW YORK – Who knew that for a third successive week I would be writing another article about the strategic importance of the Caribbean Diaspora to tourism promotion efforts?
That’s because the reaction from Caribbean people at home and abroad to the power of the Diaspora has been overwhelmingly positive and it is clear at a renewing of the mind is urgently in order in both the Caribbean’s public and private sectors if we are to begin to take full advantage of the intellectual and financial capital of our vibrant overseas-based market.
Imagine where Caribbean tourism would be if destinations, hotels and attractions had a consistent messaging strategy that targeted our people overseas and did not just rely on them to spend their greenbacks during Crop Over, Carnival and Christmas.
Imagine if we proactively tapped their skills and converted them into value in the Caribbean marketplace. What if we courted medical professionals, religious leaders, investment bankers and successful business people to come home and give back, mentor young businesses or invest in the region whence they came?
Imagine if we developed a database of prominent and celebrated African Americans and Hispanic Americans who can trace their roots to the Caribbean, and invited them to spread the Caribbean gospel in their business and social circles, perhaps on Wall Street or in Hollywood, and in return, we flew them home once a year, like we do travel writers and travel agents, to say thank you for their service to the region.
Just imagine if our marketers spent time in Caribbean communities in New York, Miami, Toronto, London and Manchester, held meetings with community leaders and local business people and created an Ambassadors program which encouraged Caribbean people to bring a friend to the Caribbean as a region and not just to their native land.
“While, say playing pool, they can convince fellow members of the Diaspora to ‘take that visit home’. As a by-product of regular social interaction, members of one country in the region can encourage members from other countries to visit ‘my home’ either on a single country visit or in combination with a visit to the vacationer’s own country, a de facto multi-destination vacation. Others, who are not members of the Diaspora, can also be encouraged to visit the region either on single destination or multi-destination visits,” notes former airline executive Ian Bertrand of the Trinidad and Tobago-based El Perial Management Services.
Derrice Deane, a Barbadian-American host of CaribNation Television in Washington, said she can personally can attest to her own version of tourism marketing during her career at the World Bank. “From posters around my office to casual conversations, I have succeeded in directly guiding scores of visitors to the Caribbean,” she said, adding “I believe our technocrats in the region have been stuck in the old adage that ‘foreign’ (as the Jamaicans say) is more valuable and in the meantime, we in the Diaspora recognize the wealth of knowledge and experience given to our adopted home – expertise (from which) I am sure many would prefer to have the region benefit. But then again, we’re not appreciated by our own. I think we are witnessing, once again, the same malaise that pervades the region year after year – much talk, little action. Hopefully more involvement of the Diaspora will trigger some serious movement.”
Veteran Trinidadian broadcaster Von Martin of Washington DC’s “Caribbeana” radio programme sings a similar tune. “After my spending all these years doing so much promotion of my land and trying to get the ears and whims of my home leaders and key players in the tourism fold unsuccessfully makes me feel indeed like a forgotten soul,” said Martin who also produces a top-rated Caribbean Comedy Festival to promote Caribbean culture abroad and almost all on his own dime.
Derrice’s and Von’s concerns resonate with members of the Diaspora and hopefully a movement abroad will trigger some changes in the hearts of our marketers. But the job is not easy because even if marketplace-based tourism officers are able to develop Diaspora-centred tourism strategies, their ideas can easily be thwarted by Caribbean-based managers to whom they report but who are out of touch of trends in the marketplace.
But the challenge is even greater. As a former tourism executive from Barbados put it, “My question continues to be just how ready is the Caribbean hospitality industry to welcome the Diaspora? Based on experience (in the marketplace) and my work in the region since then, I would suggest that there may well be concerns and work to be done at home. Just how ready are we?”
The challenges are mighty, but with dialogue and mutual respect, a transformation could be on the horizon.
“For the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean, migration is a core component of our economy and social life,” Organization of American States (OAS) Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin declared in Washington this week, at the launch of a Migration Information System of the Americas. Migration is equally important for the receiving countries, Ambassador Ramdin argued to member state delegates and international experts at the Special Forum on Migration Issues, at OAS headquarters.
We know the impact of remittances on our Caribbean economies. Let’s now raise the bar and redefine our relationship with the overseas-based community who are making outstanding contributions to life in their adopted homelands. To do so would be to herald our seriousness about community-centred sustainable development in the Caribbean. The evidence is overwhelming. There is no question about the strategic importance of the Caribbean Diaspora. The issue is whether or not our marketers will put their money where their mouth is and move beyond talk and towards a viable and mutually beneficial solution.
Bevan Springer, the Director of Counterpart International’s Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism (CMEx), is a journalist and communications advisor.