Revitalizing the Caribbean Tourism Sector: The IDB’s Innovation Challenge

Our tourism sector has not yet emerged from the doldrums. In Jamaica, while battling COVID-19 with what appear to be depleting resources, we “opened up” to tourism on June 15. Now, close to one month later, we seem to be just feeling our way. Nevertheless, our ever-upbeat Minister of Tourism Ed Bartlett told us a few days ago that we have welcomed 35,000 visitors since June 15, and “We expect to have another 30,000 at the end of July, and that would bring us somewhere in the region of about US$80 million in foreign exchange.” As of tomorrow, he is expected to review the situation with south coast tourism interests in mind; they are anxious to restart.

Yet challenges remain. As the Minister of Health and Wellness has said several times lately, “COVID still a keep” (COVID is still around).

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has been thinking outside the box, and has come up with a competitive innovation challenge that, I am very pleased to say, includes environmental sustainability. Below are the detailsNote the deadline: July 31, 2020.

I also asked some questions, and am sharing with you responses from Dora Moscoso, Senior Associate, Private Finance Operations for IDB Lab on resilience, sustainable tourism, digital transformation – and the “post-COVID tourist.” See below.

My own thought is: Let’s make tourism in Jamaica something exciting, fresh, eco-friendly, and sustainable.

Sailing boats, Negril. (My photo)

IDB Lab Launches Innovation Challenge to Revitalize Tourism Sector in 15 Countries

Projects May Receive Up to US$500,000 in Grants and Up To US$2 Million In Loans

The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), through its innovation laboratory IDB Lab and in collaboration with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO ), is seeking to identify business models to transform and revitalize the tourism sector. To this end, it is launching an innovation challenge to which both public and private sector organizations may apply until July 31.

The challenge  aims to identify innovations in two categories: development of the tourism labor force, which needs to acquire new digital skills for the recovery phase, and environmental sustainability, which includes implementing waste management measures through circular economy models as well as climate-smart agricultural practices.

IDB Lab will consider public and private sector candidates to implement the project in the following 15 countries: Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

A party boat full of tourists arrives, Negril. (My photo)

Requests for non-reimbursable financing for technical assistance can go from US$250,000 to US$500,000. In the case of loans, amounts can range from US$500,000 to US$2,000,000. Applicants will be expected to contribute with at least 50% of the project’s total budget.

According to the UNWTO, the tourism sector is among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 outbreak. Before the current pandemic, tourism was one of the world’s largest economic sectors, supporting one out of every ten jobs (319 million) worldwide and accounting for 10.4% of global GDP.

In the 15 countries selected for this contest, the average contribution of tourism to GDP is 16.4%. On average, tourism accounts for US$1 out of every US$6 contributed to GDP. The industry is also vital for employment generation in these countries, with an average contribution of 17.9%. Tourism’s share of total exports is also significant—in 8 of the 15 countries it represents more than 20% of exports.

The sector is highly resilient and, in the past, has survived unexpected challenges through collaboration and innovation among stakeholders. The widespread emergency triggered by COVID-19 provides a unique chance for the tourism industry and its closely linked supply chains to embrace digital transformation and stimulate innovation ecosystems in the public and private sectors. Innovation can help the industry get back on track and emerge from this crisis ready to grow again.

Those eligible to participate in this Challenge include entrepreneurs, startups, NGOs, social ventures, public innovation agencies, and other organizations specialized in and knowledgeable of the tourism sector.

The Challenge´s schedule, evaluation criteria and selection process can be found here: . Applications can be submitted until July 31.

About IDB Lab

IDB Lab is the innovation laboratory of the IDB Group, the leading source of development finance and know-how for improving lives in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC). The purpose of IDB Lab is to drive innovation for inclusion in the region, by mobilizing financing, knowledge, and connections to co-create solutions capable of transforming the lives of vulnerable populations affected by economic, social or environmental factors.

Dora Moscoso, Senior Associate, Private Finance Operations, IDB Lab.

Q & A with Dora Moscoso, Senior Associate, Private Finance Operations for IDB Lab

  • What kind of impact would you like to see the innovation challenge make on the tourism sector?

Moscoso: As the innovation laboratory of the IDB Group, our role is to pilot innovative solutions that would ultimately contribute to the efforts that all the public and private sector actors in the industry are pursuing to revitalize the sector. 

  • Do you think tourism in the region was in need of a “revamp” anyway – even if COVID-19 had not appeared? If so, what was in need of fixing before the virus arrived? What were the emerging issues?

Moscoso: Even if COVID-19 had not appeared, the tourism sector, just like any other, needed to improve its competitiveness and governance framework, better allocate public and private resources for destinations, and of course incorporate crisis prevention measures. 

  • You assert that the sector is “highly resilient” to unexpected challenges. Now, we are in the hurricane season. Do you think disaster preparedness and emergency management should be integral to any innovative tourism project?

Moscoso: In the Guidelines of the Challenge we present a general overview of the tourism sector around the globe, where we observed some examples of resilience as a result of past occurrences (911 attack, SARS, dengue and ebola). The Caribbean has proven to be tremendously resilient precisely because of the hurricane season. Indeed, in the new normal, disaster preparedness and emergency management should be taken very seriously by all actors in the tourism supply chain.

  • Would you not say that the current COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that the current model of tourism is not, in fact, “highly resilient”? What makes you confident that it will bounce back, this time?

Moscoso: COVID-19 is an unprecedented event, but judging from the worldwide response to it, we want to believe that it will bounce back. Tourism is multi-sectoral so there are many other industries that are dependent of its success and vice-versa.  Tourism is also human-centered. People crave to be around other people, visit new places, or go back to sites that are dear to them. This drive will ultimately prevail and help the sector bounce back. Innovation is also the key to unlock novel ideas that will reshape the tourism offer post-COVID.

Musicians playing on the beach for tourists in Negril. (My photo)
  • What do you think are the greatest gaps and needs in terms of workforce development in the sector?

Moscoso: The digital transformation of the region has been accelerated by COVID-19.  All sectors must embrace it and the labor force must acquire digital skills to create new products and take advantage of data analytics for market intelligence, for example.  The tourism sector is no different.

  • Are countries in the region too highly dependent on mass market tourism as a source of foreign exchange, and what are your thoughts on diversifying the sector?

Moscoso: That is a question for a tourism expert.

  • Jamaica’s Tourism Minister says he is expecting the cruise ship industry to restart by the end of the year. What are your thoughts on the future of this sector, which actually played a role in the spread of the virus and has taken a huge hit? Does it even have a future?

Moscoso: It is difficult to predict what would happen, but there is a concerted effort on adopting biosafety protocols. We will know in time the effectiveness of these measures. 

  • The term “sustainable tourism” has been bandied about a great deal. What are the essential elements in a truly sustainable tourism sector?

Moscoso: Safeguarding biodiversity, protecting natural habitats, enforcing measures to make the best use of natural resources. Respecting nature to the best of our ability.

  • Our coastal areas are being worn away by the impact of climate change, storms, over-development and land-based pollution. Yet the coastline forms the basis for the “sun, sea and sand” model. How important is conservation at this point, rather than “fixing back” areas such as mangroves, etc? How can this be incorporated into the tourist culture?

Moscoso: In a post-COVID world, the tourism experience as we know it may change. We believe a new tourist culture will emerge and the demand will be reshaped.

  • How important is the role of agriculture in the tourism sector, and should it play a greater part?

Moscoso: Food is part of the tourism experience. The Challenge also focuses on climate-smart practices and sustainable catch, farming, among others, that would revitalize and strengthen the supply chain to benefit farmers and customers.

  • What role could non-governmental and community-based organizations play in the tourism sector?

Moscoso: The tourism sector needs the support of all actors in the public and private sectors. NGOs and CBOs have established direct links with communities who are also key players in the sector. 

  • Whatever concepts and projects are awarded, have regional governments really bought into innovation and new ideas in tourism? I get the impression that post-COVID, more ground-breaking for the same type of mega-developments will be going full speed ahead. Won’t it just be “more of the same”?

Moscoso: We do not have an opinion on how regional governments will tackle the new challenges.  However, governments are cognizant of the obstacles and are also very much aware of the great potential of innovation in the sector.

  • Who is the Post-COVID Tourist? What are his/her characteristics? Are they more discerning, health-conscious or eco-friendly – or pretty much the same?

Moscoso: Difficult to predict, but judging from what the public is talking, it is very much in line with what you have said: eco-friendly and health-conscious.

You can find Ms. Moscoso @DoraMoscoso on Twitter.

Sunset, Negril. (My photo) We stayed at the lovely Sunset at the Palms Hotel last year.



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