Developments in the U.S. Congress provide potential opportunities for U.S. and Caribbean tourism. On July 14, 2016, the U.S. House of Representatives held a hearing on the “Strategic Importance of Building a Stronger U.S.-Caribbean Partnership“.
On June 13, 2016, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the U.S.-Caribbean Strategic Engagement Act of 2016. It requires the Executive Branch to submit a multi-year strategy for U.S. engagement with the Caribbean region, including promoting greater economic development. Significant bipartisan interest exists in a similar bill in the Senate.
The hearing focused on the need to support Caribbean tourism, which is the largest economic sector in the region, but is fragile.
The Subcommittee members observed that Caribbean countries have supported Venezuela in international organizations due to the assistance provided by Venezuela through PetroCaribe since 2005. China, Cuba, Taiwan, and Brazil have filled the power vacuüm in the Caribbean. The focus was how the U.S. can develop a more collaborative relationship with the Caribbean.
Testimony included a strategic look at increasing immigration pre-clearance presence for shared collaboration and security and providing technical assistance and training for the development of a shared watch-list for travelers into and within the region.
Financing is a critical element of facilitating U.S. private investment in Caribbean tourism. In contrast with China, wherein the state subsidizes mega-tourism projects, such as the $3.5 billion Baha Mar hotel development in the Bahamas, potential U.S. investors find that, due to their comparatively small size, most of the proposed Caribbean tourism projects qualify for neither Overseas Private Investment Corporation financing nor feasibility studies, without which most projects cannot obtain financing.
Proposed initiatives include:
- improving the arrivals and departures processing experience through the Implementation of Advance Passenger Information Systems and Automated Passport Control systems;
- advancing “one-stop” security clearance for travel within the region and connecting travel within the region;
- visa liberalization; increasing duty-free shopping allowance for returning U.S. travelers;
- and supporting the establishment of a Caribbean Open Skies policy.
With respect to travel and tourism collaboration, the U.S. government/selected U.S. states and Caribbean jurisdictions should conclude a bilateral (or even a multilateral) agreement on the development and facilitation of tourism, similar to the ones the U.S. concluded with other countries. These agreements provide, among other things:
- for the establishment of government tourism offices and personnel in each other’s territory;
- the development of the tourism industry and infrastructure in each other’s territory;
- facilitation and documentation through the encouragement of binational cultural events;
- simplifying travel documents;
- saving certain visa fees;
- and promoting foreign investment in the tourism sectors.
The agreements provide for cultural and tourism programs, tourism training, exchange of tourism statistics, joint marketing of tourism, consultations (annual meetings), and protocols.
Cultural exchanges should emulate some of those between Mexico and the U.S.: youth in action (activities for low-income youth), youth councils, sports diplomacy, and an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
Some of the Caribbean travel and tourism programs should be directed at the states, such as those in the Southeastern U.S. Many long-trip tourists like to travel to parts of the U.S., especially the southeastern U.S. during the winter. If they could take advantage of joint U.S.-Caribbean tourism products, such as plantocracy tourism and cultural tourism packages, discounts on hotels and restaurants with activities in the U.S. and the Caribbean, then they would have more incentive to take such trips to both the U.S. and the Caribbean. In this regard, U.S. states, such as California, have their own tourism agreements and/or Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). For instance, California has a tourism agreement with Mexico and a MOU with Israel. The one with Mexico has as its objectives to increase bilateral tourism flows, with emphasis on luxury travel, adventure and nature tourism, sports tourism, sun and beach tourism, cultural tourism and tourism organized for groups.
Most U.S. state universities and colleges have tourism and travel and/or hospitality programs. If Cuba with its severe poverty could find ways to accommodate places in its universities for Caribbean students, surely the U.S. stakeholders can persuade some of the state universities to engage in collaborative arrangements with Caribbean countries for their mutual benefit.
Stakeholders interested in a stable and healthy Caribbean and a collaborative U.S.-Caribbean economic and political relationship should act to take advantage of these unique opportunities, especially since the U.S. executive and legislative branches have not similarly focused on their economic relationship with the Caribbean since at least the Reagan Administration’s Caribbean Basin Initiative.
For a more comprehensive view of this subject see Bruce Zagaris and Scott Buzzard, Renewed American Focus Can Bring Regional Tourism Dividends, The Bahamas Tribune, Aug. 23, 2016