Emil Lee, new CHTA President highlights Region’s Diversity, plans to form Caribbean Community, strengthen National Hotel Associations

Emil Lee, general manager of Princess Heights Hotel, St. Maarten, took over the reigns as president of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association (CHTA) for the next two years and vowed to strengthen the National Hotel Associations, form a Caribbean community to help grow tourism to the region and continue to build on the foundation that his predecessor, Richard Doumeng built over the past two years. Lee’s inaugural address titled “Lowest Common Denominator – LCD” follows:

            Ladies and Gentleman, good afternoon, welcome Damas y Caballeros, buenas tardes, Bienvenidos Madames et Monsiers, bon après midi, bienvenue Dames y Heren, doede middag, Welcom.

A special thanks goes out to Keith Stephenson from ARDA for supporting our lunch, but more importantly thank you for your continued and steadfast support of CSHAE and CHTA.

Standing here addressing you as incoming President of the CHTA is really the last place in the world that I would have ever imagined ending up.

Born in the USA, to immigrant Chinese parents that literally escaped China with nothing but their educations, growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood, living on an island half French/half Dutch in the Caribbean, with a degree in Biology and Philosophy becoming president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.  In the words of Richard Doumeng…”really?”

However, in a sense, I suppose this is fitting.  In a way, my background matches the diversity and richness of the Caribbean.  As you can see from my welcome, you need a minimum of four languages just to do a proper greeting.

Many of our islands have Carib and Arawak Indian roots with varied colonial European influences, such as Dutch, French, English, Spanish, Danish and even Swedish, leaving many of our destinations with different languages, different political systems, different currencies, different cultures, different music and dance.

As tourism products, our islands differ in many ways.  We have different primary source markets.  Some cater to the North American market.  Some the European market.  Some to both.  Most of our islands have different mixes of hospitality accommodations, all-inclusive, timeshare, bed and breakfasts, villa, mass market hotels, small boutique hotels, condo hotels, chain hotels and independent hotels.

So in many ways the Caribbean tourism product is extremely diverse. This diversity is both an opportunity and a challenge.  So in a sense, our diversity is part of the glue that binds us.

CHTA soul searching

It is against this backdrop, that the CHTA finds itself soul searching and seeking to understand its rightful place in the Caribbean.  It is against this backdrop that the Board finds itself contemplating the strategic vision and direction for the CHTA.  The world is changing, the tourism industry is changing, rules for business are changing.  Change is one of the few constants that we can depend on.  Change is inevitable, and we can either be the victims of change or the beneficiaries.

As we seek to understand our role in the Caribbean, we need to look for the Lowest Common Denominator for concerns and issues that our 30-plus member countries share, such as:

  • We live in one of the most heavily tourism dependent regions in the world.
  • We are heavily dependent on airlift. You simply can’t drive to our islands.
  • Small economies of scale, create challenges on multiple levels.
  • Most of us suffer from high energy costs.  Electricity and water are often three to four times the USA costs.
  • Increasing cost of doing business coupled with decreasing profitability are becoming the norm.
  • Varying degrees of seasonality in our tourism industry.
  • Most of our income producing assets are coastal making us vulnerable to global warming and hurricanes.
  • Increasing National debts throughout the Caribbean is concerning, creating pressure for increased taxes.

As CHTA seeks to redefine its role in the Caribbean, we cannot be afraid to be disruptive in the process of reinventing ourselves.  This is a Kodak moment. Steven Sasson.


Luckily, the CHTA that I am inheriting today, is a dramatically different CHTA than the one Richard Doumeng inherited two years ago.  When Richard began his term as President, he repeatedly mentioned “Please, Please…I just don’t want to be the last president of CHTA.” Two years later, Richard and his team have created a dramatically different CHTA.

Besides the obvious changes, like Jeff Vasser, our new CEO, the CHTA has become a more efficient, energized, transparent, fiscally responsible, and proactive association. All of the Board members have contributed greatly to the new CHTA. Richard really is probably one of the only people that had the historical perspective and courage to reshape the association.  Together with Jim Hepple, they have dramatically reengineered the financial foundation of CHTA, leaving the CHTA poised for great things.  Bill Clegg, Warren Binder, Evelyn Smith, Karolin Troubetzkoy, Alberto Abreu, Billy Jonckheer, all contributed greatly as well.

The CHTA Education Foundation under Richard Kahn’s leadership has also undergone a similar restructuring process.

The CHTA has reaffirmed its commitment to CSHAE, the National Associations.  While there are still on-going discussions about how best to service our membership, there is no doubt that strengthening the National Associations is a critical part of CHTA’s future success.

As CHTA moves forward, we cannot be afraid to ask tough questions.

Questions such as:

If we are an Association of Associations, as our National Associations broaden their perspectives and scope, should CHTA’s scope also evolve?  Many of the National Associations have diversified their interests to include yachting, marinas, fractional ownership, cruise industry, villas and condominiums, restaurants and activities.  Should CHTA’s perspectives and scope also change?

In today’s reality, resources are becoming more scarce.  Should we be building bridges with other entities in tourism and hospitality, such as the CTO and FCCA?

How should CHTA value strategic partnerships that contribute knowledge and experience? Examples include Transparency International, the Carbon War Room, FEE and their Green Key and Blue Flag programs.

With limited human and financial resources, what should our core competencies be? We cannot afford to be all things to all people.

CHTA has a number of events, how do we re-engineer these events to be more cutting edge and more relevant to our members, both hotel and allied?

Nothing has leveled the playing field for Caribbean tourism like the Internet.  What can CHTA do to bring new technologies to our membership?

What can CHTA do better to leverage the combined purchasing power of the Caribbean?

How can CHTA assist in the development of competitive airlift to the region?  How can we cooperate with other stakeholder such as CTO to accomplish this?

As CHTA moves forward, CHTA must also be willing to set a bold vision.

With much of the Caribbean’s GDP generating assets being coastal properties, the CHTA should be taking a firm stand on issues such as global warming, sustainable development, and environmental protection.  Rising sea levels have tremendous potential impact on insurance, building codes, access to capital.  The Caribbean has serious skin in the game when it comes to global warming.

With many of our member islands suffering from out of control public debt, CHTA should be taking a firm stand on fiscal responsibility, transparency, accountability and integrity.  Ultimately, countries with large deficits will come to the tourism industry to finance these deficits which will only further contribute to increasing cost of doing business.

Throughout the Caribbean, it is clear that countries with structural cooperation between government and private sector tourism stakeholders perform better.  The Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) is a positive example of regional PPP.  CHTA should be taking a firm stance on advocating for PPP structures throughout the Caribbean.

As the Caribbean struggles to improve its profitability and yield, culture, environment and heritage play increasing important roles in improving the authenticity of the Caribbean experience.  CHTA should take a firm stance on the stimulation and protection of our Caribbean treasures.

CHTA must play a greater role in increasing the social responsibility of the tourism industry.  If our industry is going to thrive, the linkages with our communities must be transparent for all to see.

How will we get there?

Clearly, the only path to success is if the CHTA can create a real Caribbean Community while engaging Strategic partners and media.

Ultimately, the strength and effectiveness of CHTA depends on the strength and effectiveness of the NHAs.  CHTA must serve as a coordinating and centralizing entity for the National associations.

By centralizing resources and functioning as a repository for information, gathering and redistributing best and worst practices, the CHTA can dramatically strengthen the NHAs and improve our combined relevance and increase benefits to our members.

All of us, in this room, understand the contributions of tourism to our local economies.  Tourism means jobs, not only in the hotels but also in areas that are linked to tourism, taxis, restaurants, attractions, and crafts people.  And via the tax revenues generated, tourism funds social projects, infrastructure, education, medical, justice and more.

Given the amount of people in the region that depend on the accuracy of our vision and success, we simply cannot afford not to get this right.

Team Effort…. CHTA staff led by Jeff Vasser, The continued wisdom of Richard Doumeng and the new board of the CHTA including Board members:

  • 1st Vice President – Karolin Troubetzkoy, president, St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association and owner and executive director of Anse Chastanet and Jade Mountain Resort, St. Lucia
  • 2nd Vice President – Stuart Bowe, president, Bahamas Hotel and Tourism Association and senior vice president and general manager of Coral Towers at Atlantis, Paradise Island, Bahamas
  • 3rd Vice President – Karen Whitt, director, Turks & Caicos Hotel and Tourism Association and general manager, Regent Palms Turks & Caicos
  • 4th Vice President – Patricia Affonso Dass, immediate past president, Barbados Hotel & Tourism Association and general manager of Ocean Two Resort & Residences, Barbados
  • 5th Vice President – William “Bill” Clegg, regional vice president, Franchise Service and Programs for Choice Hotels International
  • Treasurer – James Hepple, president and CEO, Aruba Hotel and Tourism Association

Thank you for your trust, these are exciting times.  The CHTA is poised and ready to lead the region forward