THE CTO SAGA
Submitted by Stanton Carter – he is a former Director of Tourism for Dominica, Nature Island of the Caribbean and a former Manager, Canada, Barbados Board of Tourism.
CTO’s October 15, 2019 press release announcing the closure of its New York and London offices plus an assessment of its Barbados operation maybe of minor interest to most people but for those employees about to be displaced, the news must be devastating.
The raison d’être for the closures according to the announcement is that after two decades of deliberations, dialogue and discussions, a decision was finally reached to restructure and reposition the CTO organization. Its purpose is to enhance CTO’s role in the development of the region’s tourism industry. To achieve this objective, CTO‘s operational expenditures will have to undergo major reductions.
The idea of restructuring the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the cutting of operational costs is not original. Reliable sources tell us that as early as February 2001 copies of a final report titled “STRATEGIC REVIEW OF THE CTO MARKETING FUNCTION’’ containing recommendations for restructuring CTO’s modus operandi were submitted to the CTO Governing Body of the day for review, consideration and implementation.
Highlights of that report proposed a thorough overhaul and expansion of CTO‘s marketing division as follows:
- Relocation of CTO’s New York office and the Marketing Division headquarters to Miami, Florida to reduce operational expenses
- Upgrading and expansion of the London facilities to function as the CTO UK office and its Regional European office
- Establishment of fully staffed and structured CTO marketing offices in Toronto/Canada, Frankfurt/Germany and Paris/France to enhance CTO’s global marketing strategy for promoting the Caribbean
- Continuation of the CTO Chapter system which was established to liaise with and motivate Travel professionals to sell the Caribbean
The common denominator which links these two documents appears to be the need to reduce operational expenses. What is mind boggling, is that if it was evident as far back as 2001 that expenditures needed to be curtailed, why it took some 18 years to rectify the situation. In a region where tourism is reputed to be the main engine of economic growth and development should this be interpreted as procrastination, complacency or that CTO’s current business model which was introduced in 1989 with the merger of CTA and CTRC has outlived its usefulness?
Since the beginning of the millennium, CTO seemed to be fighting an uphill battle with its role and responsibility in the Caribbean tourism industry. The pathway forward has been a major challenge for the organization. While the region’s private sector stakeholders updated their facilities with cutting edge technology to meet the new era tourism, CTO member states appear to be waiting for a decision to upgrade the regional marketing program with IT and Internet enhancements.
To be candid about the current state of affairs within the organization, no fault or blame should be directed at the staff of these two offices for CTO’s problems. They did their best with the financial resources provided. If CTO is cash strapped there are several options and cost cutting measures that could be implemented to streamline its’ operation. If the Governing Body has aspirations of revitalizing CTO, the following are some suggestions for consideration.
1 – The introduction of a new proactive business model and strategy to generate revenue for the region’s tourism industry marketing and internet technology requirements
2 – The hiring of a CTO Director of Global Marketing. This position apparently has been vacant since 2008
3 – Undertake a review of CTO’s 2020 proposed calendar of marketing activities for the USA, Canada, Europe and Latin America Markets
4– Reassess participation, benefits derived and return on expenditures for events such as
(a) CTO’s traditional Caribbean Pavilions and Villages in the international travel shows in WTM/UK, ITB/ Berlin and Top Resa/ Paris. This format has been around since 1979
(b) CTO travel agent road shows in all markets. There is a multitude of these shows hosted by airlines, Tour operators, individual Caribbean destinations and CHTA and the need to duplicate these activities are questionable. Current format was introduced around mid 1970
(c) Revisit costs of Caribbean Week Celebrations in US, Canada and other locations
(d) Evaluate the Caribbean travel media and travel awards program in all markets
(e) Question the need for participation in all travel trade shows
(f) Discontinue events like Government State Balls, etc
(g) Review CTO’s Public Relations and communication channels
5– Revive the original chapter system to function as an external sales force for CTO globally.
The current internet One Caribbean Chapter (OCC) is more of an educational platform than a marketing facility. The original CTO chapter system gave travel agents recognition and a sense of belonging. More than anything else, the chapters provided venues where agents could meet and invite clients to attend presentations. Costs for their activities were borne by travel agents and event sponsors
6 – The creation and launching of a Public & Private sector joint venture – a CTO and CHTA Caribbean Booking Engine to promote, market and sell the Caribbean. There are many Booking and Search engines selling the Caribbean and other destinations, but currently there is no booking facility specializing in the Caribbean which travel agents and the consumer public can utilize to transact business. The Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) a marketing entity jointly owned by CHTA and CTO could be upgraded with IT and Internet technology and qualified staff to manage this venture
7 – Increase CTO’s member states dues to finance the Caribbean Booking Engine project
8 – Correct the perception that the US market is the primary focus of CTO’s marketing strategies and activities
9- Review and consider sharing CTO’s leadership role with CHTA in marketing activities. CTO is the Public sector body responsible for regional marketing. CHTA on the other hand is involved with product promotion and distribution, sales and services to tour operators, Travel agents and consumers. An arrangement such as this would help to reduce promotion expenditures for both organizations and provide a unified Caribbean image in the Tourism Industry Closing the above offices and displacing staff will not solve CTO’s challenges. On the contrary, unless new proactive initiatives are put in place to fill the void, this action could have a negative effect on the Caribbean Tourism industry. Closure of these offices diminishes CTO’s role and with no representation globally, it is possible the region could experience some unforeseen economic losses. A practical solution to this problem would be to allow the status quo to remain until a new Secretary General is appointed. After this individual is installed, organization reform could take place.
For all intents and purposes, it would be better to keep the Caribbean brand visible in the tourism industry while adjustments are made to the organization. CTO has grass roots beginnings as early as October 1946. CTO as it is known today came into fruition in January 1989 when the merger of CTA and the CTRC occurred. A great deal of time, effort and money has been spent to build and create an awareness of the Caribbean as one of the world’s leading vacation areas. It would be a shame to see the region’s image impacted because of organizational challenges.
Perhaps, it is not too late for CTO’s Governing Body to reconsider its decision to close its overseas offices.