Tourism stakeholders call to ease travel restrictions

BASSETERRE: President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), Josef Forstmayr, has pleaded with CARICOM heads to fix the regional aviation crisis and facilitate ease of intra-regional travel.

The number of intra-Caribbean visitors declined to 566,000 last year, according to statistics from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).

Forstmayr expressed disappointment that tourism was not on the agenda for the 32nd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in St. Kitts, which concluded on Monday.

“We have heard that several heads of government at this meeting had called for reduction in travel restrictions,” he said. “This is crucial if we are to return to the 1.5 million intra-Caribbean visitors that helped fill vacant rooms at our Caribbean hotels just a few years ago…An efficient and dynamic aviation policy is fundamental to the economic development of the region and this includes the tourism industry.”

The CHTA chief added that it was “ludicrous” that visa regimes existed between CARICOM countries, stressing that nationals should be able to travel freely between Caribbean islands.

“We tend to speak of integration but at the same time we stand by and let our governments erect more barriers. Do not underestimate the potential for regional travel,” he said.

Forstmayr suggested that the sector has not received as much attention as it deserves.

As a case in point, he noted that in October 2007, Caribbean ministers signed off on the San Juan Accord, which identified the steps needed to be undertaken in order to provide the Caribbean with an efficient and productive aviation policy. A deadline of September 30, 2008 was given to get all policies in place.

However, he said “these agreed action steps have not come about and the aviation situation both into and within the Caribbean has gone from bad to worse”, and the lack of an efficient and affordable intra-regional air service has hurt national economies and small hotels.

Forstmayr said there is still insufficient awareness and understanding of the industry’s economic contribution and how it permeates the depth and breadth of the general economy and overall fabric of Caribbean society.

Travel and tourism directly and indirectly employs more than 1.9 million people in the Caribbean, which translates into one in every nine jobs. It accounts for 12.8 per cent of the Caribbean’s economic activity – more than any other region in the world.

“This benefit of tourist spending impacting into the wider economy is the relevance that needs to be conveyed to our own people in the islands so that everyone understands the importance of these tourists and the dollars they bring to the economy,” said Forstmayr.

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