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July 6, 2020

The future of tourism: Innovation challenges in the Caribbean

At the Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth ongoing at Montego Bay in Jamaica, Prof. Dr. Eduardo Fayos-Solà, Senior Adviser of the International Institute for Tourism Studies at George Washington University, shared concepts, proposals, and innovation challenges on the future of tourism in the Caribbean.

It is now more than 50 years since Thomas Kuhn published his famous work on The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the key concepts of paradigm and paradigm shifts. Later, authors such as Joel Barker, have extended the force-concept of paradigm, from science to business and governance. A paradigm is “a framework of concepts and theories” allowing for subsequent common action in business, governance, science and technology, structured upon such framework.

In “normal times” or “business as usual,” science, business, and governance are conducted within the limits and concept of one of these “frameworks,” a “paradigm.” But “existing paradigms” face major disruptions – paradigm shifts – when the set of problems changes too rapidly, and existing methods do not work. A paradigm shift is a “game changer.” It involves a dramatic advance in methodology and practice, a major innovation in thinking and planning. It is especially true in such cases of paradigm shift that “The Future of Tourism” – or simply “The Future” – depends on innovation.

There are three kinds of innovation:

● Reforming, e.g., slightly improved products.

● Re-engineering: A new production method, with increased efficiency.

● Revolutionary (or “disruptive”): Breakthrough science, technology, marketing, or governance – entirely new products and processes, often involving dramatic new technology and satisfying previously unforeseen expectations and needs.

Even within the existing paradigm, we can have “reforming innovation” and “re-engineering innovation.” But “disruptive innovation,” and even broader “revolutionary innovation,” usually happen in the context of a “paradigm shift.” Let’s focus on “The Future of Tourism” and the 21st century key problems of: Climate Change, Development, and Governance.

Innovation (and scaling it with investment) is our bridge to the future. So, why not really go for it? Is it too risky? Are the rewards not high enough? Would this just be upsetting the apple cart? How would the region begin? By de-risking public and private institutions, as well as financial and fiscal stimuli; rewarding both the private and the public sector, and tilting the playing field (upsetting the apple cart). This may require debunking a few myths beforehand.

The problems of Climate Change, Development, and Governance are likely to require paradigm shifts in the Caribbean region, with the implication of disruptive/revolutionary innovations in: science and technology; culture, society and market mechanisms (including “marketing,” and institutional frameworks and governance. An adaptive and “successful” “Future of Tourism” in the Caribbean region requires innovation in all three areas.

As far as glocal – global and local – issues are concerned, it is well known that tourism destinations go through business life-cycles. In the Caribbean region, as elsewhere, it is important to analyze the stages in such cycles: exploration, involvement, development, consolidation, stagnation and rejuvenation, or decline. Innovation challenges vary with destination cycle stages.

In the Caribbean, it is key a quick change in framework scenarios, as well as “destination action,” with rapid adaptation/rejuvenation through all kinds of innovation, but mostly disruptive/revolutionary innovation. The exact nature and speed of the environmental, cultural, and governance changes cannot be known, so it is difficult to achieve full long-term adaptation through specific programs, projects, and reforms that are decided now. It is framework institutions, agreements, and plans which are needed.

Innovation is needed in: human capital, institutional capital, physical capital, natural capital, financial capital, and “pillars,” for example: human capital development; new partnerships, new markets, and new products; environmental sustainability; and new investments.

Environmental, scientific, technological, cultural, and social change in markets, institutions, and governance is inexorable and coming fast. The future is not what it used to be, and tourism faces a profound paradigm shift in the next few decades, so innovation is essential.

In conclusion, let us consider that it is plasticity for adaptation – rather than resilience – in our businesses, institutions, and governance, which matters, vis-à-vis “The Future of Tourism.” Knowledge management and a proper milieu (governance) for innovation is the required passport when readying to walk in the coming brave new world.

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