To put this gathering in perspective, the Caribbean now has the thirteenth largest tourism industry globally in absolute size. It is first internationally in its relative contribution to the national economy; and is tenth globally in its contribution to long term national growth. Moreover, it is the biggest employer in our region after the public sector. It is also the largest single contributor to the Gross Domestic Product, and was worth in 2010 some US$39.4 billion. This was based on an estimated Caribbean travel and tourism demand of US$55.4 billion, minus imported goods and services spending abroad, of US$16.0 billion,” Skerritt told the opening ceremony.
He said the purpose of Caribbean ministers and tourism officials from the private and public sectors “is to begin what we hope will be a lasting dialogue about this critical primary industry and in doing so change some of the negative perceptions about tourism and our region that might exist.”
“We want to emphasise the opportunities and challenges that flow from tourism-led development and find new ways to ensure, with your help, that our industry touches every aspect of Caribbean life in ways that bring genuine sustainable economic growth to our people and communities,” said the CTO chairman.
“Much has been said in this type of forum in the past by Caribbean leaders about the end of preferential market access and the problems caused to the sugar and banana industries. But that is not what we are here to talk about today. We are here because we believe that, with your help, there are important opportunities ahead for Caribbean tourism and its many allied services,” said Skerritt, who also noted that across the Caribbean similar structural changes are also occurring, “but what we have not seen is Europe or our other international partners placing enough emphasis on support for the development potential of Caribbean tourism, and its ability to create jobs and change human lives for the better.”
He said the Brussels meetings provide the opportunity to consider a wide range of tourism related issues that will enable the Caribbean delegation understand better the European policy towards the Caribbean and how the strategic partnership that is now envisaged might relate to our sector.
“We also want to establish how a closer policy dialogue on tourism and related development issues might be established with Europe’s Member States, the European Commission and the European Parliament, and in this context identify how the tourism chapter in the EPA is to be made operational and support made available for both the public and private sector. We especially want to ensure that tourism becomes deeply embedded in all future EU/Caribbean strategic planning,” said Skerritt, who hoped that the meeting will lead to an ongoing dialogue with multilateral and bilateral funding agencies to support tourism development finance and encourage private investment.
“And we want to understand the current European approaches to aviation taxation, security, the environment, carbon trading and clean energy in the context of a future Caribbean tourism policy. Perhaps this is an ambitious hope, but it is a hope that speaks to the very survival of our Caribbean economies and hope for our Caribbean people,” said the CTO chairman.
Skerritt said he was pleased to have representatives of the regional private sector including both the President and Director General of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association to help to make the case in Europe.
“Tourism in our region is driven by our business community and we recognise the need to work together to find solutions that will result in the development of our industry and our people. HTA President Joseph Forstmayr and his colleagues are well aware that Caribbean hotels and related businesses have to become more competitive and remain so. They are equally aware that we are in vigorous competition for visitors with nations as far from us as China, India and Dubai. And our two strongest friends traditionally, the USA and Europe, are now more actively prospecting for visitor arrivals in the same markets as the Caribbean,” said Skerritt.
He pointed out that it was just two weeks ago that a leading US cruise line announced the repositioning of one of their long standing cruise services from the Caribbean Sea to European waters, from the summer of 2012.
“This expanding market competitiveness has been compounded by the negative effects of the recession in all of our source markets, an increasing desire of some Governments to tax aviation, and the creatively coined concept of a ‘stay-cation’, a concept designed to keep vacation expenditure nearer to home,” said Skerritt.