By Joan Parker, President and CEO
Say the word “Caribbean” in the depth of winter and almost all of us conjure up visions of turquoise bays and coral reefs.
It was therefore my pleasure to travel to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in December to attend the annual conference of the Caribbean Media Exchange (CMEx). The organization regularly gathers Caribbean professionals who are working towards a healthy and growing regional tourism market that creates jobs and incomes, while embracing sustainable environmental practices. This is a big deal in the Caribbean, where tourism is often the largest sector of the economy, and environmental challenges emerge on the land and the sea, exacerbated by tourists in both cases.
Sitting in the meeting, I was struck by the complete absence of international donors or external facilitators. Rather, this was a gathering of national and regional players without external voices or resources. This was, in the truest sense, a nationally-owned development agenda.
Who was leading this effort? Was it government, or private sector? In fact, there were four sets of stakeholders present, each with an agenda. You might guess the first three: government leaders whose communities depend on tourism income; business leaders from a range of industries involved in tourism; and community-based organizations that work with communities to implement solutions, and ensure citizen interests are heard.
It was the fourth party that took me by surprise: the media. Their presence was a stroke of genius. They had the ability to connect local, national and regional tourism offerings to potential visitors. They brought networking and communication skills to the group – essential tools for creating and maintaining a region-wide tourism initiative. And their self-interest kept them engaged and constructive: they were seeking interesting stories for their audiences, and tourism is a high-demand topic.
As a group, these four parties created a rich brew: each group had a piece of the solution, but none were sufficient alone. Together, however, they had the power to drive both demand and supply for tourism, plus deliver the infrastructure and public sector support to make it happen.
We are watching experiments elsewhere in the world that are trying to tap into and expand upon nationally-owned and-led agendas: the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Feed the Future, and more.
Within these programs, let’s identify those times that have been most successful in actually accomplishing development outcomes, not just in launching development programs. For those clear success stories, what partnerships made them possible? What mix of players brought that creativity and innovation that allowed a “donor-lite” success?
We are asking ourselves these questions, and I am eager to hear your thoughts.