All things are related

Humans are more and more coming to the realisation that "all things are related". Applied in a geographical context, Waldo Tobler, back in 1970, invoked this notion in what is now known as Tobler's First Law of Geography:

"Everything is related to everything else, but near things are more related than distant things."

This expression of the idea was not new but it was the 'way' that it was stated that presented a new context in which to think about the notion that 'all things are related'. Indigenous peoples have understood the inter-connectedness of things since time immemorial. Man is not separate from Nature, as Western philosophy had asserted.

One cannot think about changes in weather or wind patterns, for example, without thinking about the impact on birds or food supply or shorelines. Are changing Gulf Stream conditions bringing drier air to Europe?

The broader understanding about inter-relatedness, by the way, had been gradually filtering into collective awareness. Just about the same time as Professor Tobler expressed his theorem, Dennis Meadows, et al through the Club of Rome released their seminal study about 'The Limits to Growth'. Human exploitative practices were being shown to be clearly surpassing what the Planet was able to sustain. This was a time of fundamental change in the ideas about the future of Humanity.

Now, fifty years after these ground-breaking ways to see the world around us had entered into Western consciousness and where are we? Some scholars may question how much these ideas have become part of Western thinking and argue 'not enough'!

As one reads the articles contained in this blog, there is an inter-relatedness that stretches across the themes contained in them. When a change occurs that impacts one, this may lead to change in other 'related' areas. A small change in sea temperature may result in changes in reef quality, as one instance that impacts the whole region.

When one thinks about one aspect of Caribbean tourism, such as the impacts of climate change, one is made to be aware of the need to bring sustainability into the development of destinations. Then one thinks about how this will be done and then the impacts on biodiversity as well as on businesses and communities become enclosed within this broader view.

The reverse is also true. Changes in the way businesses or communities conduct themselves and interact with each other and the environment also have impacts in other areas such as sustainability. So, the importance of moving whole economic sectors and societies in the direction of improving conditions for people on the ground becomes very real. When we talk about 'improving conditions', we are really talking about all these other things.

When business leaders or politicians choose to act in certain ways, there is an impact on the man on the street. The so-called leaders who may be acting in ways that they see as improving conditions in an immediate sense but may potentially impact longer term goals of Society. Sometimes these impacts are unanticipated with far reaching and long lasting consequences. These men or women cannot separate themselves from their fellow countrymen, from their home ground or from history.

"One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean"

Professor Tobler also had said that 'near things are more related'. In the context of Caribbean tourism, what this means is that as changes in a nearby conditions occur, there are impacts in areas close to them. Geographically, as well as culturally, Caribbean islands are close together and a change in one, whether political, economic, environmental or social, will almost certainly impact neighbours.

For example, when a cruise ship discharges waste in the waters nearby one country, it may be easy to pass it off by saying, well, that is 'their' problem. But the impact of this discharge may be more widely felt. Laws to protect against this kind of irresponsible behaviour must be enacted by all neighbours before they will benefit collectively.

Another example might be, when powerful people act in their own interests, this has an impact on the thinking within whole social groups or possibly even within the whole region.

Political conditions in a country such as Venezuela, sends migrants far and wide but it is definitely nearby Trinidad that is dealing with a major influx of people.

Overfishing is another example, where one country's fishermen take too many fish, impacts the food supply for nearby islands.

As one moves through the whole array of conditions and impacts, the realisation that all islands - countries and peoples - are dealing with a similar set of problems is inescapable.

Now, take the example of destination marketing. Advertising and promotion are major budgetary expenditures. They require huge outlays even before the first visitor will show up. Most smaller islands are not in this game because of the enormous cost.

So, if we look at marketing of tourism by any given small island, the expenditure that is required to attract visitors may be more than that destination can afford. While collective marketing can result in distributing the number of visitors between destinations, the cost of attracting a share of these visitors becomes within the budgetary limits of any one of them.

Competition can be about quality rather than the race to the bottom mentality of whoever can supply the lowest cost vacation. Nearby islands cooperate to bring a collective benefit in more than one place.

This, in turn, attracts better quality visitors who may be more willing to buy the better product, and also inspires them to return. The better experience, in turn, will be something these visitors relate to their friends. It is well known that word-of-mouth advertising is an important add-on to any advertising campaign. People are more likely to respond to what their friends or relations do and say. Here, nearness is a powerful way to promote and it doesn't even cost very much.

Further, co-marketing in the sense of multi-destination travel also becomes possible. Nearby destinations benefit, by sharing resources and visitors. Improved profitability will attract investment to further develop these destinations.

Edmund Bartlett, with his push for the single Caricom visa is a potential example of how the actions of a political leader in one country might deliver benefits to its neighbours. When Mr. Bartlett presents his idea, he knows there will be benefits for Jamaica but he also is aware that nearby countries will also benefit. It is the collective benefit that makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. The opportunities that a single Caricom visa present for co-promotion are, literally, unlimited. Near things are not only related but now could become a range of products that can be packaged to co-promote. Let's hope this idea receives wider support and soon becomes a reality.

Until fairly recently, when a visitor landed in Saint Lucia, for instance, they probably weren't thinking about neighbouring Saint Vincent or Martinique. The visitor had been captured and would be jealously guarded. But, in today's world, visitors are seeking out ways to explore as well as more fulfilling experiences. Co-promotion can enable this thinking and entice visitors to venture into these nearby places and spread the benefits around.

In this context, hotel chains with properties in two locations may be able to co-promote a stay in each place. The longer stay encourages visitors to spend a little more, interact more with local services and, importantly, reduce carbon load from medium haul flights. Maybe airbnb or vrbo could try this too.

Publication of news articles, by news outlets acting in their own (or perceived local) interest, is another way that events in one country may impact on neighbours. As stated earlier, the conditions that each country or island are acting within are similar for all countries. Indeed, the broadcasting of an event, or idea, will be noticed by nearby citizens of other countries as well.

They may be attracted to attend the event, or be inspired to host a similar event in their own country. Like the idea of a 'Carnival' in one country has become known as a way for all islands to attract visitors. Near things are not only related but they are also similar. Visitors may be attracted to one or another and easing of restrictions makes intra-regional travel more possible.

It is clear that impacts that reach across international borders. Yet, these 'borders' are human constructs. Humans built them and humans also need to see them in their true context. That near things are 'more related than distant things'. The major difference between citizens or, indeed, the beach, in one country or another, is the name of the country. Otherwise they are, from the traveller's perspective, nearly the same. International travel has, in reality, erased borders. Tourism promotion, with the similar seascapes depicted in almost identical ways, has nearly removed visual differences. With a look and feel almost the same, people might be excused for not knowing about differences. Now, within the timespan of only a few hours even distant things have become more closely related.

However, the harnessing of collective ideas into actions and the benefits that might bring remain elusive. Even considering the close proximity of most Caribbean island nations, there does seem to be the insularity that each desti-nation has an obligation to 'protect' itself from threats this proximity might bring. In reality, the threats are minimal, most of them being 'perceived threats', such as barely visible competitive advantages or outdated notions of cultural inferiority.

In this scenario, it is old modes of thinking that are blocking new paths to progress. The old modes may need to be discarded, or at least adapted to new realities. Revising the context opens new possibilities for people to offer new products or services. There are also benefits to collective action, the idea of which seems 'yet to be perceived'. The power of 'united we stand' has yet to reach widespread awareness in regional thinking. Caribbean destinations are competing in a worldwide marketplace.

Further to this notion about co-promoting, the idea of integrating nearby countries (ie: bringing them closer) by adopting unified transportation policies is an important pillar in delivering social and economic benefits across borders. Uniting similar peoples in nearby places. Reaching across borders to develop markets or promotions that build on bringing benefits to people more widely. Deliver ways to allow visitors a chance to experience local diversity for themselves. In fact, in our more interconnected world, the idea of breaking with past 'insularity' might actually be a powerful way to attract. Why? Many visitors will take advantage of being more enabled to freely move around.

Improving transportation, easing of restrictions and co-promotion, as a bundle, provide a solid platform on which to develop tourism in the entire region. Related things, in this context, form the basis for marketing in a more powerful way.

Hopefully collective action, such as that undertaken by OECS countries to co-promote will eventually filter into the consciousness of nearby politicians is something to wish for, and to push for. Each one knows what the other is doing but how they bring this knowledge into becoming the more cohesive whole is what really matters. Better sooner than later.