Sir Hilary bats for regional health tourism

With the emergence of new travel habits amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Barbadian historian, Sir Hilary Beckles, believes that the Caribbean tourism sector should prepare to “go forward to the past” by promoting the region as a health destination.

Sir Hilary, who was speaking at a forum organised by the Caribbean Tourism Organization to mark World Tourism Day 2021, pointed out that the implications of the novel coronavirus pandemic has greatly shifted the needs of travellers, who are increasingly searching for places to recuperate and relax their minds.

“I believe there is tremendous value in going forward to the past since our product was built originally and historically around the health product. The biggest product in the world today will be built around health, not only physical health, but mental health has become the fastest growing concern in the world. People are speaking about the need for mental health and [the novel coronavirus pandemic] has brought this to the forefront in a very aggressive way,” said Sir Hilary, who is also vice chancellor of The University of the West Indies.

While noting that the concept of “mental health breaks” has emerged at the forefront of travellers’ minds since the onset of the pandemic, he said this ideology will be imperative to the recovery of the Caribbean’s tourism sector and encouraged tourism stakeholders to collectively take advantage by promoting the region’s destinations as a health product.

“Historical knowledge is important, which is why I am saying to you that the paradigm of freedom is going to be at the centre of the future of this industry. We [must] project the Caribbean [as] one of the freest parts of humanity’s project… freedom is going to be our most popular philosophical concept,” he said.

“Let the Caribbean be presented as the freest part of the world for all people, not only our own citizens, but for those travellers who are trying to get away from it all to experience a different civilisation. That could be the new basis of a new pedagogy of tourism, it certainly will be the way to link the health product with the social grounding and if you want to get away from mental health issues as the whole world is looking for places to rebuild and strengthen. Let them associate that process with Caribbean freedom,” he added.

The professor noted that health tourism isn’t a new concept to the Caribbean region as travellers came to the region centuries ago to experience our “magical environment”.

“We are not newcomers to this; we have been in this tourism business for hundreds of years. In the 18th century, we were the health destination; all kinds of peoples were travelling to the Caribbean because there was a belief that the Caribbean environment possessed the cure to all kinds of stressors and health concerns. This is precisely what brought George Washington to travel to Barbados and he was a part of a large stream of people who journeyed to these islands because they believed we had a magical environment,” said Sir Hilary.