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We’ve come a long way

Published: 
Thursday, October 4, 2007
The Greater Caribbean this week

World Tour-ism Day was celebrated around the world on September 27. This year’s theme, “Tourism opens doors for Women,” celebrates women’s achievement in the tourism sector and prompts one to reflect on not only the contribution of women to tourism but also to the beginning of the industry itself.

Tourism for special purposes flourished in the late 1800s, particularly in Europe. History tells of travel to the continent for religious pilgrimages, and for medical purposes, particularly to “take the waters” of the thermal springs in Bath and Baden Baden in Germany.

The Grand Tour of the continent in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries can be considered as the start of educational tourism. The tour which lasted several years was meant to teach scholars and young British aristocrats languages, fencing, riding, foreign affairs and other social skills, through a series of study tours to France, Germany and Switzerland.

But in pursuit of more concrete evidence of the history of travel and tourism, we discover Thomas Cook, an Englishman who became known as the father of Modern Tourism. He founded Thomas Cook and Son and opened his first travel agency on July 5, 1841.

Cook then persuaded the Midland Countries Railway to conduct an organised railway excursion from Leicester to Loughborough. Later in the summer of 1845, he ran his first conducted tour abroad, taking a group from Leicester to Calais in France.

While leisure seekers were fuelling the tourism phenomena in Europe in the early 1900s to mid 1900s, tourism activity in the Caribbean was in the form of trips by expatriate plantation owners, traders, merchants, the aristocracy, and a few adventure seekers motivated by “wanderlust” a simple desire to wander to unknown places.

Closer to home and in the case of T&T, records show that organised tourism started in the early 1950s, with a welcoming committee headed by the then governor’s wife. She along with other socialites met the ships on arrival at the port and invited the élite to tea.

While the ordinary folks across the region were engaged in pursuits related to sugar cane, cocoa, coffee, rice and rum making, very few would participate in tourism, except as porters and servers of tea and meals to visitors to the homes where they were employed.

In those days, records show that the founding fathers of several countries in the region were firmly committed to discouraging tourism, stating that it would create a country of barmaids and bellboys.

The region has come a long way indeed in its courtship with the industry. The World Travel and Tourism Council projects that the industry is expected to contribute 5.1 per cent to the region’s GDP (US$12.5 billion in 2007), rising to US$24.7 billion by 2017.

The hospitality and tourism industry has opened doors for many. Once considered a non-traditional career, enterprising women have responded to the opportunities created by the demands for new tourism products and services. They cover the industry’s landscape in positions as hoteliers, pilots, travel agents, tour operators and policy makers, to name a few.

An examination of the structure of the national tourism administration in the ACS member states reflect that in 20 of 25 countries, women currently hold senior positions in tourism from the level of directors to ministers.

Recently, a think tank was hosted by Sri Lanka on the theme “Tourism opening doors for Women” and its inter-relationship with the UN Millennium Development Goals. Women who have played prominent roles in tourism around the world discussed the importance of women in the tourism sector, improving the role of women in tourism and accentuating their roles, particularly in developing countries.

Several key issues were raised in the discussions including awareness creation about the opportunities for women and the creation of appropriate policy frameworks for women’s economic empowerment.

One of the important conclusions reached by the think tank was to foster a network of activists, ambassadors and advocates to support the work of UNWTO Special Adviser on Women in Tourism, and to establish a task force to develop a draft programme of activity. This will also serve to support the UN’s 3rd Millennium Development Goal: promoting gender equality and women empowerment, through 2015 and beyond.

n Jasmin Garraway is the sustainable tourism director of the Association of Caribbean States. The opinions expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS. Comments and reactions can be sent to [email protected]

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