Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Lateral thinking needed to unite Caribbean and Diaspora

Uniting the Caribbean Diaspora is back on the agenda, following news that the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), under the leadership of Bahamian Secretary-General Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace, is seriously trying to integrate the Diaspora in its plans, the fruit of which will be the greater contribution of our gifts, talents and abilities to our own development in the marketplace and in the Caribbean region.

Community leaders at home and overseas have lone explored this topic, but it has not gained much momentum primarily because selfish ambitions, egocentered motives, and that insular mentality that we so love to perpetuate have thwarted it. Last week, I mentioned that people of Caribbean descent do have a substantial role to play in Caribbean integration, even while they live outside the Caribbean, and the CTO'a vision and plans may just be the prescription needed at this juncture of our history. Once successfully implemented in the marketplace, perhaps our leaders will be sufficiently motivated to renew their minds, unite their efforts, and transform our region.

The willingness of the region's top tourism body to play a major role in this effort is important, given CTO's influence with its 32 government members and a slew of private-sector entities that can help provide the structure, framework, funding and political will for such an initiative. Furthermore, while CTO's mission is to provide to and through its members, the services and information needed for the development of sustainable tourism for the economic and social benefit of the Caribbean people, the fruit of the Diaspora project transcends tourism and focuses on transferring talents to help raise the bar of excellence across the region.

Already, members of the Caribbean Diaspora and Caribbean region are getting excited. In Brooklyn, a member of the Caribbean-American media commented, "Perhaps Mr. Vanderpool Wallace could appoint a CTO advisory board immediately and set up a Diaspora consortium to handle part of the PR and advertising to show his good faith," no doubt referring to the inverted prejudice that has prevailed in tourism organizations where advertising and public relations resources by-pass consultants and firms from the Caribbean and African Diaspora.

"He can lead by example," the writer continued on a list-serve that targets Caribbean writers interested in sustainable development. Then maybe the various boards of tourism would be forced to reflect on his leadership (and) example…I have engaged enough ministers of tourism of the region who have a mindset that excludes the Diaspora from meaningful participation…as we say in the Caribbean, they love to 'old talk.'"

Dr. Basil Springer, a weekly columnist for the Barbados Advocate, who in the interest of transparency is my "old man" (but always has new ideas), said: "We do have 'bridges' and tunnels' that link the countries in the Caribbean, but the toll is too expensive. What is the average load factor by origin and destination within the Caribbean on LIAT, Caribbean Star, BWIA and Air Jamaica? If we could devise a yield management system to fill those empty seats to the mutual benefit of the traveling publics and the airlines at a much cheaper toll, this may go some way to increasing the people integration in the Caribbean. Accommodation may be solved by barter arrangements with family and friends and by using the empty room nights in hotels and guest houses in some creative manner. Lateral thinking such as this is needed to solve the problem."

He also opined that telecommunications companies, too, can be asked to join the fray by reducing the cost of telephone calls to Caribbean call-in programs to specific telephone numbers over the period of the call-in program. "Look at what (Alien) Stanford has done with 19 countries in the 20/20 tournament. Caribbean Star's income during July 2006 must have improved significantly moving all those teams to Antigua, in many cases along with their supporters. His apparent generosity is partly building his airline, and I would not be surprised if this generosity gives a large return on investment as he markets the new form of the game in the U.S."

The lateral thinking has begun, and hopefully before long, CTO's efforts will translate into a lot of lateral action to bring and people closer together.

By: Springer, Bevan, New York Amsterdam News

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