What makes or can make Dominica's tourism special and different?
Freedom Speaks Column: The economy was already declining but the new coronavirus is making it worse – Part 8
In the last article we noted that the tourism industry in Dominica is small and was not internationally competitive. This is disappointing given the tremendous potential there has been for making the industry a top performer in the Caribbean by offering a world class but special and different tourism product. However, the COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting global recession that is unfolding, has the potential to diminish the little that has been achieved in the industry. The occasion of the crisis can be used to prepare the industry to be more competitive than it was leading up to the incidence of the pandemic.
Last week we noted the desirability for visitor accommodation and other tourism business to use the crisis period as an occasion to upgrade their businesses. We also noted that the government should use the crisis period to upgrade the public space so that the natural beauty of the country can be complemented by the built environment. This should include the upgrade of physical infrastructure. However, we noted that the upgrading of the industry should be pursued and incentivized in the context of a rethinking of the tourism strategy given its current lack of competitiveness and in the face of new trends or hindrances that may arise post the COVID-19 Pandemic. Let us expand on that discussion.
In reviewing the country's tourism strategy, several questions should be considered. What makes or can make Dominica's tourism special and different? How can that difference be packaged to appeal to potential investors in the industry and potential visitors? What target markets would bring the greatest return to the industry? What infrastructure upgrades would be necessary to allow the industry to unleash its full potential? The "big idea" of being the nature island of the world could serve as the foundation for differentiating our tourism. There is a need for clarity on what that encompasses, so that the country's product development and promotion efforts can be aligned to the big idea. For instance, being the nature island of the world should mean a commitment to conserving the natural beauty of the land, preserving or restoring the health of the natural environment including the degree of purity of our coastal waters and that of rivers, the use of sustainable and organic farming practices, and ensuring that human activity and the built environment do not diminish the enjoyability of the natural environment. There should also be commitment to the adequate maintenance of trails/paths (including the Waitukubuli trail) to allow residents and visitors to enjoy the island's natural assets.
Clearly, Dominica could be more competitive in the tourism segments of nature tourism, agriculture, tourism and health and wellness tourism. In these segments there is need for more guidance on the characteristics of visitor accommodation facilities that would best aesthetically complement and technically align to the differentiated tourism product we wish to achieve. This could lead to preparing a "design code" that could reflect on the use of building material, waste disposal and the use of renewable energy among other areas. It would also be important to encourage the minimizing of the carbon footprint of businesses, encourage the sustainable use of local materials, and encourage the engagement of local people and communities. Such considerations could serve to tailor the type of upgrades that are supported and encouraged during the period of low visitor arrivals during the crisis and the unfolding global recession.
Similar consideration must go into the undertaking of upgrades to public spaces and the design of physical infrastructure. These must complement and enhance the differentiated tourism product we wish to encourage. Moreover, difficulty in accessing the island by air from international origins, has been a long-standing hindrance to attracting visitors and investments in tourism. Seeking funding to address this matter along with the need to upgrade roads, would serve as an important stimulus to the economy during the crisis period while contributing to improving competitiveness of the tourism product. Such funding would have been more readily available had the government not misappropriated or otherwise mismanaged CBI funds.
It is recognized that investment in the tourism sector will decline given that the current major source is the CBI Programme which was already at risk for reasons we previously explained. Efforts ought to be made with respect to how investments in projects that were already under construction or planned under the CBI programme could be continued. The construction activity under these projects could help cushion the fall in other areas of economic activity affected by the crisis, while allowing more rooms to become available that would strengthen the islands' competitive position. However, it is recognized that private investor interest will be depressed.
Furthermore, the global disruption of the tourism industry, present an occasion for Dominica's tourism product to compete for market share provided that the country can use the crisis period to become more competitive. Therefore, a resetting of the industry must be accompanied by an appropriate promotion and marketing strategy.
Kent Vital Political Leader Dominica Freedom Party.