By Ernie Seon
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Sept 15 – St. Lucia’s Prime Minister Allen Chastanet says he is convinced that Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders are now ready to give the tourism sector the necessary impetus to allow it to assume it’s rightful place as the major economic pillar for the development of regional economies.
Speaking to reporters following three hours of talks with Caribbean tourism ministers attending the three-day Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) State of the Industry Conference, (SOTIC), Chastanet said at the last CARICOM summit held in Guyana in July, there was strong recognition among the leaders that greater attention needed to be given to the promotion of the tourism sector.
“At the July summit Bahamian Prime Minister (Perry) Christie along with other heads called for a tourism summit in January, and we have to use that as a platform to be able to launch a unified approach to promoting and developing the industry,” he said.
“We strongly believe that the public and private sector need to be able to function in a more co-ordinated way,” Chastanet said, citing the need for agreement to be reached on the establishment of the long mooted Tourism Development Fund.
“It is time for us to put that into place and also ensure that other institutions that we have are making positive contributions in terms of statistics and advocacy for this region,” he said.
During Wednesday night’s SOTIC opening ceremony, Barbados’ Tourism Minister Richard Sealy said he had invited Chastanet to hold talks with the regional tourism ministers as they prepare for the tourism summit in January.
Prime Minister Chastanet attended the Caucus of Ministers and Commissioners of Tourism where he put forward some ideas previously expressed by the Bahamas Prime Minister.
The caucus discussed the state of tourism and work on providing material for CARICOM stemming from the decision to make tourism an agenda item.
SOTIC brings together tourism decision-makers, including ministers, commissioners and directors of tourism, hotel and airline executives, travel agents, students, the media and persons directly and indirectly involved in tourism.
Chastanet, who is also a hotelier, has been sharing his vision for the implementation of two initiatives that he believes will assist CARICOM in finding solutions for surmounting some of the economic challenges confronting the regional body.
He told reporters that issues such as correspondent banking and the need for foreign investment meant that it can’t be business as usual “and I think the heads are now coming to terms with that.”
He said some governments have turned to Citizen by Investment Programmes (CIP) because they are all looking for ways to survive the changing global economic environment.
He said the industrialised countries had put together strategies to ensure their own survival following the global economic crisis, while others have been waiting for hand-outs.
“But we have recognised that we have to be more unified in our approach and more serious with what we are doing so as to make this happen, and this in part is the message I brought to Ministers of Tourism and I will be having a similar meeting with the private sector and the Caribbean Hotels Association, with the hope that we can become better prepared, and the heads will be prepared to make decisions at the January summit,” he added.
In a recent meeting with CARICOM Secretary General Irwin La Rocque, Prime Minister Chastanet shared his own ideas for the tourism summit, emphasising the need for the Council of Finance and Planning (COFAB) to convene an urgent round of meetings.
He said COFAB must undertake a more active role in an environment where the region is confronting several critical micro and macro-economic challenges.