BASSETERRE, St. Kitts & Nevis: In an address entitled, “There’s Never Been a More Crucial Time in Caribbean Tourism,” Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Senator Richard Skerritt, says it is imperative stakeholders set aside their differences.
“We don’t have to agree on everything in order to improve our own product standards and contribute to a better island experience for visitors,” he said during a recent address at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Resort in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands (USVI). “We don’t have to be political supporters of the government to understand that successful destination tourism is achieved only by uniters, not by dividers.”
Skerritt, who is also minister of tourism for St. Kitts & Nevis, said cooperation between states and major stakeholders is a must.
“No matter who is in government, tourism success is crucial to our country’s future and must therefore be important to all of us. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to learn that the public and private sectors need to be partners if we are to advance and sustain our market recovery.”
Skerritt said the Caribbean must work together both as a region and as a destination to compete in a complex and demanding tourism marketplace.
“Ours is a marketplace that is overburdened by the stresses of life – continued unemployment, high fuel prices, increasing food prices, worrying political conflict, and unprecedented natural disasters. But it is also a marketplace we think is ready to accept that life needs the Caribbean.”
Skerritt addressed a number of tourism-related issues, including excessive taxation, intra-regional travel, advocacy, effective marketing, service excellence and the link between visitor expenditure and wealth creation. In addition to these challenges, he said tourism has become an even more competitive business since the recent U.S. recession and consequent worldwide economic downturn.
“Now is, therefore, the time to explore new possibilities,” he said. “And rather than sit back and wait for the tourists to come to us, we must work even harder and smarter to overturn complacency and become a region that is once again rife with tourism promise.”
Skerritt said future tourism success will need a more organized, proactive and creative private sector in order to drive new employment, investment and growth, while satisfying demanding visitors. “It will also need government officials who give more than lip service to the concept of partnership.”
In an effort to address the marketplace challenges facing the region’s tourism industry, the CTO and its private sector partner, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), have injected new life into the Caribbean Tourism Development Company (CTDC) to market the Caribbean brand to global audiences, starting with the online marketing platform, CaribbeanTravel.com.
Virgin Islands hotelier and CHTA president-elect, Richard Doumeng, said that the renewed partnership is largely due to the leadership of Skerritt and CHTA President, Josef Forstmayr, the co-chairs of CTDC.
“For so long, both nationally and regionally, governments and businesses have lived in some sort of parallel universes, (but now) we have forged our way to a bright future of cooperation and results.”
While Skerritt congratulated local tourism stakeholders for hosting the meeting, he also urged them to go beyond mere words by taking action.
“In the final analysis, this gathering will mean very little unless each of you leaves here more committed to identify and take action on what needs to be done for your own future tourism success…Now is the time for doing. Now is the time for action.”
CTO Secretary General, Hugh Riley, also spoke at the meeting. Skerritt and Riley have embarked on a series of road trips to spread the message of Caribbean tourism to CTO members.
USVI Commissioner of Tourism, Beverly Nicholson-Doty, said the U.S. Virgin Islands is fully committed to a united approach to marketing the Caribbean region as a preferred tourism destination and declared her support for consolidated regional approaches.
“As the Virgin Islands, we may often think that we can go it alone, but I am here this morning to assure you that we can’t,” she said. “It is so crucial for us as a region to recognize our dependence and interdependence on each other to survive.”
Banding together, she added, is especially critical on issues such as airlift and cruise calls to the region.