“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
The Caribbean is a diverse multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-culinary, multi-genre (musical) and multi-lingual region officially made up of an archipelago of islands and selected mainland emerging territories nested between North and South America, Central America in the West and the Atlantic Ocean in the East, in and bordering on the Caribbean Sea.
The 17 English heritage administrations in the Caribbean are distributed as follows: North (7); South (7) and West (3) with an estimated population of six million, including the mainland territories of Belize and Guyana. The six French heritage administrations in the Caribbean are distributed as follows: North (5) and South (1) with an estimated population of 11.2 million, including the mainland territory of French Guiana. The seven Dutch heritage administrations in the Caribbean are distributed as follows: North (3); South (1) and West (3) with an estimated population of 0.8 million, including the mainland territory of Suriname. The three Spanish heritage administrations in the Caribbean sea are all in the North with an estimated population of 22.5 million, including the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. There are 33 Caribbean administrations with a total population of 40.5 million, albeit over managed, which is not to be ignored as a geographical market to be explored within the wider Latin American and Caribbean region.
In this Caribbean diversity lie opportunities and challenges. Where else in the world does one find such an attractive target market for adventurous tourists who are looking for destination diversity? Now that the global centre of gravity of wealth has shifted from West to East, there are many tourists and potential tourists with large enough disposable incomes to travel to their destination of choice anywhere on the globe. Therein lie the opportunities. Tourism is an export in the sense that it earns foreign exchange for a given destination. As for any other export industry the important factors in order to develop and sustain the industry are quality, price, continuity of supply and timeliness of delivery. Many tourists have limited time for their tourist experience and need to get to and return from their destinations safely, reliably, in relative comfort and as hassle free as possible. When they arrive at the destination they expect to be safe and to benefit from quality accommodation, meals and attractions which are commensurate with the money that they have outlaid. In short without high quality air transportation and services we are “dead in the water”. Therein lie the challenges in marketing the Caribbean as a tourism destination.
LIAT – The Caribbean Airline – is an acronym for Leeward Islands Air Transport. LIAT soon celebrates 50 years of service in the Caribbean and no other airline can match the experience of LIAT which operates high-frequency inter-island scheduled services serving 21 destinations in the Caribbean. LIAT is at the core of a transportation solution for exploiting the diverse Caribbean region as a tourist destination for Caribbean people and indeed tourists from across the globe. LIAT is having its challenges but so too have many other large and small organisations around the world. Many have overcome these challenges and LIAT must aim for service excellence and do the same. Those responsible for accommodation, meals and attractions must also aim for service excellence.
Let us focus on the transportation challenge with LIAT at the hub. The generic solution for reengineering organisations, whether they are starting up, branching out, surviving or growing, requires visionary leadership and good management.
This is of course more easily said than done but here are 10 important guidelines which need to drive LIAT shareholder policy and be adopted by the LIAT board of directors: Corporate Governance – (1) Choose to make a policy shift today to propel growth of the airline; (2) Promote the concept “If LIAT does well, We all do well”; (3) View LIAT as a serious business not a support service; (4) Follow the policy of social partnership that the role of government is to provide regulatory and service functions and the role of the private sector is to “Do Business”; Marketing – (5) Identify the needs of Caribbean and global tourists for the diverse Caribbean destination and develop products and services to satisfy those needs; Operations – (6) Partner with other Caribbean air carriers and provide a fully efficient network in the Caribbean; (7) Augment the interline agreements with foreign carriers to bring tourists from all over the world; (8) Enhance systems of human, process and technology productivity; Human Resources Development – (9) Focus on global standards of service excellence; and Investment Finance – (10) Widen the ownership of LIAT to include other blocks of public and private sector investment and shareholding.
It was heartening to read in the press on September 16 that Minister of Finance, the Economy and Public Administration, Hon. Harold Lovell, Government of Antigua (the only shareholder government from the Leeward Islands) has returned home from Dubai expressing confidence that the groundwork has been laid for Antigua and Barbuda to be considered for investment and as a service destination for the Emirates Airlines in the near future.
This is visionary leadership. Emirates flies to more than 130 destinations over six continents. From the bustle and energy of New York to the remote tranquillity of the Maldives, you can discover the world with Emirates. The Caribbean region has to date been excluded from this network. I am reliably informed that a business case needs to be presented to rectify this anomaly. Maybe Minster Lovell can lead us there.