ALTHOUGH some believe that the concept of multi-destination tourism is no more than a utopian idea, it is clearly a great opportunity for development and regional integration for the Caribbean.
On the one hand, the 24 major destinations in the basin compete with very similar tourist products and modalities, based essentially on beach resorts offered by the same international hotel chains, the same tour operators, airlines, and cruise ship companies. On the other hand, these destinations are areas surrounded by water, or to put it another way, to reach them, travelers must cross maritime borders.
They share an essential feature as island nations, which in terms of the tourism industry means that the greatest potential for development in the Caribbean lies in promoting culture, history, idiosyncrasies - as a whole. The insularity of countries in the region means they have limited territory, find economic diversification difficult, and are obliged to encourage tourism.
The goal is no more, and no less, than attracting the greatest number of travelers on the basis of planning that contributes to achieving sustainable development in the Caribbean, and attempting to ensure that the interests of international tourism companies are tempered by a commitment to sustainability within the so-called no smoke industry.
Official data shows that since 1990 through 2016, the average number of tourists traveling to the Caribbean has increased 4% annually. This growth is far greater than that seen elsewhere, reflecting the climate of peace, collaboration, and security reigning in the region.
According to Dr. José Luis Perelló Cabrera, former researcher at the Economic Studies Center and a professor at the University of Havana, a central aspect evident within the development of tourism in the Caribbean context is the reproduction of relations inherited from the European continent.
Once it is understood that tourists are looking for authenticity, and in the process of merchandizing culture, cultural traditions are reinvented via an ethnic relation. The expert emphasizes, "This authenticity is linked to the past and more primitive societies. Thus, the tourist industry can produce it and generate earnings."
He noted that the United States is the Caribbean's largest emissary market, sending 7.2 million visitors a year to the region. In 2016, a total of 6,558,982 tourists visited the Dominican Republic; more than 4,035,000 came to Cuba; 2,231,776 to Puerto Rico; and 2,181,684 to Jamaica.
THE MULTI-DESTINATION PARADIGM
In the opinion of Perelló, cruise ship tourism, one of the modalities with the greatest scope internationally, represents a viable option to ensure growth in tourist arrivals, since accommodations are offered without overnight stays in all countries. In other words, a cruise line can make a trip to the Caribbean a multi-destination experience.
During the 2015-2016 season, 26.89 million cruise ship passengers visited Caribbean destinations. When crews are added to the figure, a total of 38.2 million individuals arrived during this period.
The Caribbean has become the world's most important cruise line destination. According to data provided by Cruise Lines International, the industry had
60,000,000 passenger-days throughout the region in 2016, representing 60% of the industry worldwide.
The Caribbean islands receive more than half of all cruise ship visits, generating
some 2.2 billion dollars in direct expenditures, 56,000 jobs, and 7.2 million dollars in salaries.
Perelló noted that two possible multi-destination routes with untapped potential exist in the Caribbean. One including the region's principal destinations in the Dominican Republic, Cuba and the Bahamas, and the other within the entire arc of the Lesser Antilles.
He added, "Cruises are not exclusively for older vacationers, or for the best-off economic classes, but an option with increasingly shorter itineraries, less expensive, and adapted to the tastes and demands of a variety of specific segments of the market."
Moreover, he explained, cruise ships have a positive impact on the economies of countries where they operate, boosting construction of port infrastructure, commerce, the service industry, etc.
The Caribbean offers many advantages for the cruise industry, including short distances between a large portion of the basin's islands; the variety of its flora and fauna, both terrestrial and maritime; its proximity to North America; as well as the history of colonialism evident here in some of the oldest European settlements in the Americas.
Florida Caribbean Cruise Association figures cited by Perelló indicate that 71% of those taking cruises are from the United States, 12% from Canada, 6% from Britain; and 5% from Germany.
Despite being an alternative which is not easy to implement, multi-destination tourism in the Caribbean is clearly possible, and the best way to develop this modality is via cruises, and strengthening the region's competitive edge.