PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad -- Closures of hotels and cruise ports due to outbreaks of communicable diseases, environmental challenges like climate change, and poor health and wellness in the tourism workforce, can result in significant losses in revenue. These were the major catalysts for the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) partnering to address issues affecting health and tourism in the Caribbean region.
During CARPHA’s Health Research Conference in Aruba, last Friday, CARPHA and CTO launched its innovative Regional Tourism and Health Programme geared at strengthening the links between tourism, health and environment for more resilient and sustainable tourism in the Caribbean.
Minister of tourism of Antigua and Barbuda, John Maginley, a long standing champion in the region for the establishment of this programme and one of the first to invest seed funding, delivered the keynote address at the launch meeting.
Maginley recalled hotel experiences in which millions of dollars in revenue were lost because of food-borne illnesses and other health problems. He said negative events can cripple the Region’s tourism industry and recognized the need for training, standards and clear regional protocols to protect the industry. Maginley believes that this programme will change the way the Caribbean moves forward with tourism and will create a new brand awareness.
Premier and minister of tourism of the Turks and Caicos Islands, Dr Rufus Ewing, said that tourism is the mainstay of many of the economies of Caribbean nations and contributes to more than 50 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP).
However, he also pointed out that the tourism industry is constantly under threat as the speed and frequency of travel from other regions bring new and emerging diseases and he described recent first-hand experiences with norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships that spread to the resident population.
He explained that an adverse event on one island in the Caribbean is generalized in international forums, as being the Caribbean as a whole, and in turn negatively impacts the tourism industry of all islands.
Ewing added that, along with an increasing number of violent crimes and reduced safety of visitors and residents alike, collaborative action becomes critical, if the region is to achieve a profitable and sustainable tourism industry.
Executive director of CARPHA, Dr C. James Hospedales, noted that outbreaks of food and water-borne diseases may be the most common health problem in visitors with major negative economic impact.
He said, “In the early 2000s, within a five-year period, losses of over US$250 million were estimated to have occurred in the Caribbean tourism industry due to preventable outbreaks.”
Further, Hospedales spoke of major environmental challenges including beach water quality. He said hotels and tourism facilities face challenges of water and energy conservation to reduce carbon footprints, not to mention the overarching threat of climate change.
He informed the audience that the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre had agreed that joint action with the health sector and environment was essential to improving resilience and mitigating and preventing the problem. In fact, according to Hospedales, a 10% improvement in the energy efficiency of the region’s hotels, could significantly contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases, as well as improve financial performance.
Hospedales reminded those in attendance of the additional issue of the health and wellbeing of the tourism workforce and preventable costly epidemics of overweight and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) affecting the entire work force. He pointed out that high levels of overweight and obesity, hypertension and diabetes, are prevalent among the staff and decrease productivity and increase health costs.
Hospedales added that the tourism workforce health and wellness component of the programme will be led by the Caribbean Tourism Organization, with support from CARPHA.
Sustainable tourism product specialist at CTO, Gail Henry, further emphasized the need for risk and crisis management to ensure that potential issues, such as the spread of diseases, are minimized and that enhanced surveillance and responsible reporting of diseases was encouraged.
CARPHA’s tourism and health programme coordinator, Dr Lisa Indar, outlined the objectives of the programme, including awareness-raising for intersectoral and interagency collaboration, partnerships for addressing tourism and health as a joint priority, food safety and environmental management training and certification, public health surveillance and response systems and developing a healthy tourism workforce.
CARPHA and CTO are confident that this tourism and health programme will result in triple bottom-line returns: in health, by having fewer and less costly outbreaks; in environment, by improving beach water quality and reducing the impact of climate change; and, in the economy by reducing costs and improving productivity of the tourism workforce.