Home News Local news Regional Travel Official: 'We Didn't Choose Tourism, Tourism Chose Us'

Regional Travel Official: 'We Didn't Choose Tourism, Tourism Chose Us'

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March 19, 2008 — Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace's mother was a hotel maid who hoped her son would never work in the tourism industry, but that is exactly what he ended up doing — and in a big way.
Today the Harvard-educated Vanderpool-Wallace is the secretary general of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and former director general of the Bahamas Ministry of Tourism. In his address Wednesday to the annual membership meeting of the V.I. Hotel and Tourism Association, he offered words of advice and inspiration to local industry leaders.
Much of his speech focused on changing attitudes toward the industry as a profession. Vanderpool-Wallace placed the importance of the industry and its workers in perspective.
"In the last five years, global gross domestic product (GDP) has risen faster than any period in history," he said. As a result, he continued, "… more people have more leisure time … tourism is the fastest-growing industry."
The secretary general went on to say that because the Caribbean is the most desired location for travel, the region relies more heavily on tourism than any other place on the planet.
"Tourism suddenly became enormously important despite tepid local reaction," he said. "We didn't choose tourism, tourism chose us."
The Caribbean has been losing market share, however, in part because "we have been taking it for granted," Vanderpool-Wallace said. He also cited the strength of the Euro as a reason for the decline.
Tourism education is critical in improving the industry as a whole, he said. It is important that the best and the brightest students study the industry from a myriad of viewpoints. Putting the industry in perspective, the secretary general explained that where tourism brings more than 50 percent of a country's revenue, that country's tourism director becomes the economic minister.
Vanderpool-Wallace outlined four areas essential to regaining market share.
First, the region has to deliver an outstanding experience, beginning with the front-line employee and customer interaction. The secretary general said these employees' personalities are the critical factor in the experience, and once the right personality is employed, they should be rewarded — but not by promoting them away from direct contact with the customer.
Second, the region must provide "efficient delivery of effective information." Vanderpool-Wallace said "this does not mean text, it means, 'Show me, tell me.'"
Third, the cost of airfare to the Caribbean is often overlooked, he said, suggesting a single Caribbean air regime, similar to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration. This plan would use Caribbean hubs for carriers with larger planes, where passengers could transfer to a smaller aircraft suitable to smaller airports.
Finally, Vanderpool-Wallace stressed cooperation between the public and private sectors. He cited the level of cooperation between the Hotel and Tourism Association and the V.I. Department of Tourism as an extraordinary exception in the region.
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