The president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) welcomed the focus of World Tourism Day this year on the important, but often overlooked, linkages between tourism and rural development.
Applauding the World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) celebration of tourism’s essential role in providing opportunities beyond major urban centers, Patricia Affonso-Dass noted that many of the Caribbean’s rural areas have benefited from tourism’s development and are now challenged with working together to revitaliSe tourism, as their communities have been particularly hard hit by the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.
“The Caribbean is replete with examples of how tourism has been key to the development of rural communities. Many of our hotels in rural areas are major generators for other economic activity in their communities beyond the creation of jobs at the resorts,” said Affonso-Dass.
“These hotels have spawned a range of businesses and jobs which otherwise would not exist without tourism, including new attractions, ground transportation services, restaurants, musicians and entertainment providers, fishermen, farmers, and other support services for hotels.
"As tourism-generated dollars circulate from visitor spending and employee earnings, they in turn support the grocery stores, petrol stations, banks, insurance companies, and public services that help to build and maintain roads, utilities, sanitation facilities, health clinics, police and fire securities, and other infrastructure which is so essential to rural development,” she added.
The tourism leader optimistically reflected that the slowdown of visitor arrivals to the Caribbean due to the pandemic was a golden opportunity for the region to invest in showcasing the beauty, diversity and productivity of rural areas through the development of more agricultural tourism offerings, which help to preserve and promote history and culture.
“The beauty of our coasts, beaches, reefs, and seas is well known but we should support and highlight the potential of our inland farming communities to feed and sustain not only our residents, but also the formal tourism sector, and encourage visitors to experience the simple joys of Caribbean country life through agritourism,” Affonso-Dass urged.
The CHTA leader believes the economic benefit to territories and countries is another strong argument for supporting the rural environs: “While we have made real headway in recent years integrating local produce into hotel and restaurant menus, we need to continue and streamline this effort by working with farmers to strengthen critical supply chain challenges and implementing virtual clearing houses that would allow farmers to know what products are needed in what quantities, at what standard and in what timeframes so that they can maximiSe the value from their production. This way we all benefit and our visitors can enjoy a real taste of our distinctive regional flavors while giving our farmers, large and small, more sustainable livelihoods.
UNWTO has reported that young people have been especially hard hit by the pandemic, with youth in rural communities three times more likely to be unemployed than older adults, making rural tourism an important social adhesive.
“Supporting tourism recovery and strengthening its linkages to the rural areas would allow our young people to remain and earn a sustainable living in their beloved lands rather than migrating within their home countries or abroad,” observed Affonso-Dass.
Indeed, she pointed to United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ statement that for rural communities, indigenous peoples and many other historically marginalized populations, tourism has been a vehicle for integration, empowerment and income generation.
The CHTA president emphasiSed that rural communities were typically much less prepared to deal with the short- and long-term impacts of the COVID-19 crisis.
“This is due to several factors, such as ageing populations, the difficulty in sustaining durable livelihoods and the difficulty and cost of developing and maintaining efficient and reliable communication so they can quickly identify the food needs of consumers. And, we totally agree with the UNWTO that tourism offers a solution to all of these challenges,” she said.
World Tourism Day 2020 will be celebrated by UNWTO’s member states on September 27, 2020, as well as by cities and other destinations and private sector organizations and individual travelers.
It comes as the world continues to struggle with the COVID-19 pandemic.