TOURISM GENERATES CURRENCY FROM ABROAD & MUST BE RECOGNISED AS AN EXPORT INDUSTRY.
Most politicians need to be educated to the reality that the hotel industry, to a great extent, generates foreign currency and therefore creates sustainable jobs that can not and will never be exported.
Every country, 'developed' or 'developing' measures carefully its internal and external consumptions to ensure that there is a balance of trade. Too much reliance on the purchase of external goods creates an imbalance that is not sustainable. This hunger for cheap or exotic goods and services creates a vacuum that must be balanced by the sale of local goods and services such as hotel rooms.
A foreign hotel visitor is spending either his own money or his company's money which has a positive trickle down effect on the whole of the local community. This trickle down effect must be looked at strategically as we make improvements in our sustainability factor.
Several years ago, I was involved in and with Cuba. They were going through what was known as a 'Special Period', that awkward period when the Soviet Union was disintegrating and the flow of foreign goods and painfully needed spare parts from the Eastern Bloc dried up. A time when they had fully transformed their agricultural base from market gardens to sugar in order to trade it for food that they had previously grown...... and gas and spare parts........for and with the Eastern Bloc.
At about this time, Cuba attracted about 300,000 tourists per year, mostly from Eastern Europe, Spain and Canada. Cuba decided that they needed to increase their tourism industry and a period of building, renovations and frenetic growth started. By the way, they almost reached 2 million in ten years and have broken that in the years since.
The goal was the generation of hard currency.
As an interested player involved in the management of a couple of resorts in the area of Pilon, I was specifically interested in renovating one of these properties which was a popular but very dated, unimaginative, old dump that was staffed with an attractive hoard of enthusiastic Cubans, the
effervescence of which I had rarely seen anywhere. No wonder this property generated over 60% 'repitentes' or repeaters!!
As I started the task of planning its' refurbishment, I set in motion a navel-gazing excercise in which I challenged our team to scour the countryside for materials that could be used in this renovation. A way in which the local Cuban community could become involved in the industry of reconstruction and renovation. A way in which the ultra valuable hard currencies earned could be saved and the local pesos used to reduce the debilitating currency leak in which some 70% + of the renovation & operating hard currency expenses were leaving the country to buy beds, beef etc and, believe it or not, Cuban lobsters (caught locally, shipped to Spain and resold back to Cuban hotels!) This was currency that was needed for the basics, food, gasoline, spare parts, school and medical supplies......everything.
Our navel gazing team uncovered huge opportunities in the Cuban countryside. In fact virtually everything necessary to restore and renovate our crumbling hostelry back to gorgeous. In some cases, the findings were extraordinary and would have positioned this property as uniquely Cuban and fully sustainable.
Our Cuban partners were adamant. "Cuban suppliers were unreliable, goods were inconsistent, production was limited, we will buy foreign and nothing but foreign is good enough for us and our visitors".
The madness continued and the currency leak still continues. But not just in Cuba........it's everywhere!
Fast forward 20 years to today where my involvement in a huge project where 160 million people inhabit a country the size of Wisconsin or Saskatchewan. People who are willing and capable of fine work. People with a history of manufacturing. A country that is desperately trying to develop, now on the first step of the tourism ladder with less than 300,000 tourism visitors per year.
Guess what? Same story. Everything that is good comes from abroad. All the Italian or Chinese furniture and British textiles, the fixtures, the German equipment, the Australian meat, the Danish beer. In comes a dollar, out goes 0.90 cents.
Is it better? No.
Foreign is perceived as better.
Local is perceived as unacceptable.
This has to change. Particularly in those areas that can not afford the extravagance........YET. Perhaps even it needs to change forever. Perhaps the green movement will eventually gravitate from fresh local vegetables to locally produced furnishings, artwork and music.
In the meantime, many hotels are virtual 'foreign currency machines' that must be recognised as exporters and encouraged to expand tourism in their region with local attractions and tourism services.
Now I do accept that Scotch Whisky or French Champagne will always need to be imported but let's recognise that the growth of sustainable tourism products will always and forever have their foundation in the local community and their participation in the provision of goods and services.
The time has come to both recognise the power of the hotel industry as an exporter and to emphasize the importance of buying local.
..........except of course, make sure you have some good Scotch whisky!!