STC – 2019. St Vincent & the Grenadines
KINGSTOWN – Prime Minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines Dr Ralph Gonsalves is calling on regional authorities to come together and tackle the issues that could harm Caribbean tourism.
But he also pleaded with industry figures across the region to come to his country’s aid as it seeks to develop the industry there.
“I need your help. I need your help very much in continuing. Those of you from overseas – from international and the rest of the region, and certainly our own people,” he told the opening of the 2019 Caribbean Sustainable Tourism Conference on Wednesday.
The two-day conference is being held under the theme, Keeping the Right Balance – Tourism Development in an Era of Diversification.
Dr Gonsalves told the audience that St Vincent and the Grenades was new to the tourism business and would be developing a sustainable product that would be “welcoming to everyone” but must benefit small businesses and communities to help reduce poverty and create jobs.
He insisted that as the Windward island nation goes through a socio-economic transformation it needed help from its regional counterparts to avoid some mistakes.
“This is very important. If that is the only thing we achieve from this as far as we are concerned in St Vincent and the Grenadines is for you to work with us, that means you take us with our strengths and weaknesses, possibilities and limitations.
“We want you to help us in avoiding some of those errors and help us too, to enlarge our strength and possibilities and reduce as far as humanly possible our weakness and limitations, even to assist us in causing those weaknesses to metamorphose into strength and for our limitations to be altered into possibilities,” he said.
Gonsalves acknowledged that it could take some time for St Vincent to capture a larger piece of the tourism pie, pointing out that the construction of the international airport had already started to make a big difference in visitor arrival numbers.
Pointing out that regional economies did not have all the answers or resources on their own, Gonsalves said there were several issues that needed a united effort to address including climate change, resource scarcity, aging societies, inequality, an increase in the use of artificial intelligence and “unilateralists”.
Stating that technology could play a great role in helping regional economies adapt, Dr Gonsalves said should the challenges and concerns not be tackled head-on, they could have significant negative impact on the region’s tourism in coming years.
“These problems cannot be solved unless we all work together in a multi-lateral sense,” said the Vincentian premier.
Welcoming delegates to the first-of-its-kind conference in St Vincent, the acting Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organization Neil Walters said he was hoping for greater collaboration between member destinations as they grow their tourism industries.
Via a recorded message, Walters said: “We hope that at the end of this period, the discussions will lead to actions and collaborations which will in turn assist with the reshaping of this industry we rely on for the sustainability of our regional economies.”
Stating that sustainability was now an industry buzz word, Walters pointed out that the region had a number of unique characteristics that should be sustained.
But he expressed disappointment that over the years the strategies employed to grow the Caribbean tourism industry were not all in line with protection of the environment.
He said: “The development of tourism in the Caribbean has at times not been in sync with the environment in which this growth has occurred.
“Conferences like this one are very relevant, as they provide platforms for the dissemination of good practices which can, if properly implemented, help to bridge the gap and ensure a symbiotic relationship between the tourism industry and the environment in which it functions.”
He said the CTO was committed to providing good practices to its members, while pointing to two initiatives, he said that organization has been undertaking in the last two years to help countries implement economic and environmentally sustainable initiatives.
Those initiatives are the Climate Smart and Sustainable Caribbean Tourism Industry Project, designed to help with training and tools in disaster risk management and awareness on sustainable practices, and the Innovation for Tourism Expansion and Diversification project, which has a community-based tourism focus and provides technical assistance to member states.
The conference brings together a number of regional and international experts to examine the economic, environmental and socio-cultural pillars of sustainability, and identify a holistic approach to developing a more sustainable tourism product in the region.