The Caribbean can’t be any luckier. The latest figures speak volumes of steady increases in tourist arrivals. As many as 42 million sunbathers visited the balmy region in 2005, up 3.5 percent from the previous year, that according to the CTO’s annual report.

Two nations have gone the rest of the pack one better as far as tourism growth is concerned: Cuba and the Dominican Republic, with Europe’s outbound market being the force that drove these spikes.

The smart money is definitely on Europe and all sights are locked on Spain. A case in point is FITUR, a travel marketplace that last year had a far bigger presence of Spanish-speaking Caribbean destinations. CTO’s Secretary-General put his chips on this year’s fair and so he did, making good on his promise. But he lacked resources and time to launch a full-fledged marketing onslaught. Nevertheless, the region’s nations got a warm welcome and their presence in the 2007’s edition promises to be much bigger. But CTO’s vision is still somewhat blurry as to Spanish-speaking countries and other non-English-speaking nations. Therefore, this organization is skating on thin ice and a major threat is looming in the horizon. Some of those countries that have been for years making complaints and have even scrapped the CTO altogether, with no intention whatsoever to rejoin, are cooking up a NEW ASSOCIATION that could truly stand up for their interests. Their position in the markets and their new look will certainly help them up. And if the CTO just kicks back, if its representation office in Europe doesn’t take another stance and map out a new strategy, the ONLY ONE CARIBBEAN concept will crumble down. And it’s going to do no good to anybody. Or maybe it’s going to be the way out for those that are still put on a back burner within the organization.

The idea of settling for what you’ve got, the inability to seek new markets, a failure to invest in the future to make projects pay off are serious problems for countries whose economies hinge virtually on tourism and nothing else. Drawing a bead exclusively on the U.S. market –as the largest chunk of Caribbean nations do- is a mistake that has brought negative ripple effects in the past. Since he took over as the CTO’s Secretary-General, Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace has fought with might and main to reverse things and get the necessary change of course. The struggle to put all interests in the ONLY ONE CARIBBEAN basket is no walk in the Caribbean sun. In the meantime, Spanish-speaking countries are seriously considering the possibility of making a move of their own in the short run and come up with an organization parallel to CTO, an organization that can really go to bat for them. The stakes are high for the CTO because it might eventually lose some pretty strong allies at the end of the day.

José Carlos de Santiago