Tue | Jan 26, 2021

Caribbean shipping providing stable centre for regional economies

Published:Tuesday | November 24, 2020 | 12:06 AM
Fernando Rivera.
Fernando Rivera.
Juan Carlos Croston.
Juan Carlos Croston.
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“We have been that shining beacon of hope for our people by continuing to be the stable centre of the economies of our region during this pandemic,” declared Juan Carlos Croston, president of the Caribbean Shipping Association (CSA), in his closing address at the CSA’s annual general meeting (AGM) that was held virtually from November 16-19, 2020.

The CSA president told more than 200 online participants in the CSA’s AGM that they were rendering the most vital assistance to the people of the Caribbean by keeping the supply chain open and responsive to vital needs. He stated that “members of the CSA can stand tall” as they celebrate the association’s 50th anniversary this year because they are “weathering the most devastating storm of modern history, which is COVID-19”.

Open and closed sessions were successfully staged online over the four days of the AGM, including business meetings, election of officers,and presentations from keynote speakers on areas of special interest to Caribbean shipping professionals. Juan Carlos Croston and Marc Sampson were returned as president and vice- president, respectively and a highlight of the closing session on Thursday, November 19, was a special tribute and presentation to Fernando Rivera upon his retirement from the post of CSA general manager. The new general manager is Malaika Capella Ras, who previously served as the organisation’s deputy general manager.

CHANGES IN SHIPPING

Keynote speaker on the final day of the CSA’s AGM was Lars Jensen, CEO and partner of Sea Intelligence Consulting, whose presentation was entitled ‘Liner Shipping: Which Changes Will Become Permanent’. Jensen is the author of the book Liner Shipping 2025, which focuses on the changes to come in the industry and how carriers, terminals, ports, shippers, and forwarders should navigate these changes successfully.

Jensen’s presentation showed that the volatility being experienced in cargo shipping is a result of a dramatic shift in consumer demand, especially in North America, where there is a growing demand for goods over services. He said that in the early months of the worldwide pandemic, there was very low demand for consumer goods, but there is now increased demand for goods, especially by consumers in North America, Europe, and the Indian subcontinent. He said that these rapid shifts in demand have led to severe equipment issues in shipping in terms of bottlenecks arising from the placement of empty and full containers, which “will take time to unwind”.

With regard to expectations for the near-term future, Jensen said that “demand growth is extremely uncertain as it will depend on shifts in consumer spending (for example, if vaccines end the pandemic in 2020), stimulus packages, and inventory changes more than economic fundamentals”. He said that we are now in uncharted territory but predicts long-term positive growth and likely above global average growth for the Caribbean due to supply-chain diversification. He said that supply-chain diversification is being driven by a need to end dependence on manufacturing by large factories in one geographical area such as China.

Turning to “the changes that will become permanent”, Jensen said that the future would see greater consolidation and digitalisation in shipping. He noted, however, that there would still be a role for small operators in that scenario as service delivery can give them a competitive edge, especially for specialised consumer needs and where problem solving is required. He warned that digitalisation is compulsory for all involved in shipping and said to participants: “If you are not already on that path, then find the tools.”

SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

Another issue of great interest to CSA members in the current historical period is online marketing and on Day 3 of the AGM, November 18, Joel Comm, NY Times bestselling author and new media innovator, presented his thoughts on harnessing the power of social media and mobile applications to expand brand reach and engage in active relationship marketing.

In a presentation that gave participants “the formula for social media success”, Comm began by sharing some interesting data on the use of social media. He said that there are 3.5 billion daily active social media users (45 per cent of the world’s population) and that the average time spent by each of these users is three hours per day on social networks and messaging. Furthermore, he noted that 54 per cent of social browsers are using social media to research products and that 71 per cent of customers will use social media to recommend a brand to friends and family.

Having established the potential of social media as a marketing tool, Comm gave the formula for success in social media marketing as: authentic content + engagement = relationship. He outlined the four steps to success for social media marketing as follows: like me; know me; trust me, and pay me. He revealed that “a big mistake people make in their attempts at social media marketing is to begin with the product and price before establishing a relationship with the potential customer.”

Very engaging question and answer sessions followed the presentations by Jensen and Comm, indicating the great relevance of the topics to the Caribbean shipping community.

50-YEAR HISTORY OF THE CSA

The 50th anniversary of the CSA was also celebrated during the AGM and a video production by Mike Jarret, former communications manager of the CSA, captured the highlights of the organisation’s history. There was also a photo montage and reminiscences by past presidents such as Corah Ann Robertson Sylvester, the only female to have served as president of the CSA, and Luis Ayala-Parsi, one of the longest serving members of the association

It was in the late 1960s that shipping interests in the region, whose positive experience of learning from each other in matters of industrial relations, started discussing the need for an organisation that would facilitate continuous exchange of information, advice and best practices while creating a voice for their shared interests regionally and beyond. These talks culminated in the inaugural general meeting of the Caribbean Shipping Association in Nassau, Bahamas, on October 19, 1971.

Since its formation, the CSA has broadened its representation of stakeholders and maintained its relevance by addressing the burning issues of the particular period and by taking a proactive approach to representing the best interests of the maritime sector. The AGMs of the association have therefore been crucial milestones in the development of regional shipping, serving as a catalyst for the tremendous transformation of port infrastructure, maritime enterprises, professional development and industrial relations.