After several decades without a new secretary-general of the CTO, and in the face of a nonstop flow of complaints and protests staged by member states about the economic policy, the marketing strategy, the discrimination against some countries, the lack of vision, the absence of new markets, the non use of languages spoken by other member states, and the dictatorship of some over others, the CTO has decided to hold elections. The resounding expression of “only one Caribbean” –one of the most frequent phrases heard in meetings- has done anything but come up with real solutions. The policy has remained unchanged and has only provided more of the same: the centralization of the U.S. market relying on the funds sent by the European Union to favor a bunch of nations. Lack of resiliency has prompted such countries as Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama and others to quit the organization, or have never belonged to it at all, even though a few of them have rejoined it in recent months.

The structural overhaul began in New York City with a change of strategy and the appointment of Hugh Rilley, coupled with the new division of territorial responsibilities. In Europe, things did not get any better. Far from opening new markets and instead of repeatedly putting their smart money on the recovery of the U.S. outbound market to prevent the travel industry from hitting bedrock bottom –as it actually did on the heels of the 9/11 terrorist attacks- the strategy has remained bogged down. They wept and scratched their heads because they realized they had run out of alternatives. They hadn’t opened new markets on time and the unfortunate events wound up putting money in someone else’s pockets, destinations that benefit from tragedies, like the December 26 tsunamis that forced a good deal of tourists to change their course and head for other places, like the Caribbean, far from the countries hurt by the killer waves.

That’s how the ball is bouncing in Europe, a region in which countries that have shown their genuinely European vocation have not received the much anticipated support, either before or after these changes. That’s how things are going on in the Antilles, all Spanish-speaking islands with a population of nearly 25 million inhabitants where a considerable chunk of their tourist inflows hails from Europe. And that’s the situation in mainland nations with shores bathed by the Caribbean Sea, all huge Spanish-speaking countries. How many inhabitants does it take to prevent gaping differentiations between insular and continental states?

Even though it’s said that will has prevailed and it’s been two years since these changes went into effect, we still wonder, is the United Kingdom –better yet, England- the only outbound market for the entire Caribbean Basin? What studies and assessments have been done? What efforts have been made to better know a country with over fifty years of tourism experience under its belt, a nation that is one of today’s world heavyweights in the field of travel expertise and with major investments in the Greater Antilles, in Central America and South America? Why has that country never become a CTO chapter? Why haven’t they mapped out information strategies to keep member states posted on Spain’s potentials as an investor in the world travel industry? Why haven’t they seriously considered the possibility of mounting a Caribbean Village in one of the world’s premier travel shows when FITUR has instead given the CTO a preferential treatment every step of the way?

This is a clear indication that this organization should do go beyond the boundaries of information. It ought to train and advise member states about existing opportunities. To the best of our knowledge, this has not happened yet. If lack of information is the problem, we can tell you that Jamaica discovered a new market a couple of years ago and has managed, first of all, to lure Spanish groups and companies to turn eyes on the island nation, to build in the country, to send its airlines and tour operators there. I must warn our readers with a say in some of Europe’s major tour operators –either directly or indirectly- not to read between the lines. They are not shareholders. Spaniards have taken up the stocks of Europe’s biggest and mightiest companies. The CTO should consider this, regardless of the fact, of course, that Aruba, Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and Venezuela have opened their offices in Spain.

These are not brain-racking questions, but will they be answered? When choosing a new secretary-general of the CTO, will he or she speak languages other than English? Will he or she speak Spanish? Will the organization search for new markets at FITUR as an act of good will? Will they consider the opening of new chapters as a necessary strategy? Will they eventually understand that the Caribbean community is much bigger than the islands and that a big country with shores in the Caribbean Sea cannot be viewed as a whole to make a contribution to the CTO? Will they try to reel in those partners that have been downplayed in the past? If that were the case, what strategies will they use?

We hope that if the final candidate for this job does comply with these requirements, then he or she will be welcomed with open arms. Otherwise, he or she should do his or her best to fulfill this purpose. It’s hard to understand a culture if you don’t speak their language. A secretary-general of a group of countries that are so different, should at least speak the languages of the majority. There can’t be any understanding without communication.

Our publishing house is a good case in point of this policy described above. Over the past eight years, our company has been going to bat for the interests of the Caribbean in the whole world and, with that view in mind, has chosen the languages of the majority from the word go. We now publish in seven different languages. Our experience could be a humble example for such an important organization as the CTO.

Jose Carlos de Santiago