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CHA applauds PM Ingraham for support of tourism at CARICOM meeting

The Caribbean Hotel Association (CHA), through its President Peter Odle, has applauded and praised the remarks and strong support of tourism interests by the Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham, Prime Minister of the Bahamas and Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) at the 19th Inter-Session Meeting of the Heads of Government last week in Nassau, Bahamas, and is very pleased about the resulting special session on tourism being planned for July.

Prime Minister Ingraham welcomed the delegates with a clear warning that “our tourism sector is stalling” and urged his fellow Heads of Government to take appropriate action, in particular to place emphasis “on our youth and on their education and skills training.”

He also urged “collaboration and cooperation in areas such as product development, service standards, marketing, eco-tourism and sustainable tourism promotion and development.”

The result of this 19th Inter-Session Meeting of the Heads of Government is an agreement to devote one day to a special session on tourism during the 29th Meeting of the Heads of Government set to take place July 3 – 5, 2008 in Antigua.  In addition, the Heads agreed that tourism would be included as a permanent item on the Agenda of the Conference and on all CARICOM agendas in view of the importance of tourism to the economies of the region.

Peter Odle, president of CHA and owner and managing director of Mango Bay Hotel in Barbados, said: “We are invigorated throughout the private sector in the Caribbean to hear the words of support and encouragement for the importance of our tourism industry in the Caribbean from one of the most recognized and respected prime ministers in the region, the Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham.

“We both applaud his remarks and urge all our government leaders to take to heart the warnings and suggestions that will help fortify our tourism industry at both the public and private sector level.

“We at CHA also recognize the crucial importance of human resource development and over the years through our own Caribbean Hotel Association Education Foundation (CHAEF) have awarded more than US$1 million in scholarships and grants to Caribbean nationals to enable them to advance their skills and become more productive members of the Caribbean community in their respective destinations.”

At a press conference at the conclusion of the meeting, CARICOM Secretary General Dr. Edwin Carrington, St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr. Denzil Douglas, Jamaica Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Trinidad and Tobago Prime Minister Patrick Manning supported Bahamas Prime Minister Ingraham’s position.

Ingraham told the media at that press conference: “We agreed that we are going to have a special one-day session on tourism at the conference in Antigua in July.  Tourism is very important to the Caribbean region and to The Bahamas and our economy, and we are going to seek to bring focus to that issue.

“We are going to focus on the aviation and transportation of tourism, the marketing, branding of the tourism structure and we are going to seek to create a sustainable economic commission on tourism. We are [also] going to appoint a task force to produce a report for us prior to the meeting in July.”

Ingraham opened his keynote address to the Heads of Governments with a singular focus on tourism, an issue that has not had front and center stage attention before.

Ingraham said, “The economic down-turn in the U.S., the result of any number of issues including the high and increasing cost of fuel (trading at $105 per barrel yesterday) is negatively impacting all of our tourism economies and increasing the cost of living for our people.   And the sub-prime meltdown and the related collapse of the U.S. housing market will further impact travel to our region.

“Hence, our tourism sector is stalling.   While world travel and tourism continued to grow by as much as 7% last year, we in the Caribbean have enjoyed a far smaller rate of growth – hovering at as little as 2½%.   Even more chilling, more than 1% of that growth in tourism is reportedly accounted for by expansion in regional, but not CARICOM, tourism destinations.

“Yet all of us are aware that creating a viable and sustainable tourist industry is critical to the economic well being of most of the member states of the Caribbean Community.

“While this has been recognized and there exists Caribbean cooperation in tourism at some levels, I believe that our efforts could be more focussed and intensified.  We might improve collaboration and cooperation in areas such as product development, service standards, marketing, eco-tourism and sustainable tourism promotion and development.

“And so it is my hope that during our deliberations over the next two days we might agree to convene a special session on Tourism, hopefully in conjunction with our Annual Meeting in July.”

Ingraham also alluded to the recently concluded Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) with the European Community in which CHA provided its strong support.  “It is critical, therefore, that we take lessons from the Economic Partnership Agreement recently concluded with the European Community so as to inform our economic and commercial relations with our other trading partners, near and far.”

The Board of Directors of CHA, at their meeting during Marketplace 2008, has praised the recently concluded Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union, a first-ever, alliance that will ensure continued support of tourism interests in the Caribbean.

This is the first-ever international treaty to include language on Caribbean tourism and thus gives recognition to the importance of the development of the tourism industry that has become central to the future success of the regional economy.

As a result of this just concluded agreement, CHA looks forward to the establishment of an appropriate CARIFORUM mechanism that will lead to the rapid implementation of what has been agreed in order that the industry may improve its competitiveness in preparation for the agreed upon level of services liberalization.

Ingraham concluded his remarks by stating “Clearly, to remain relevant to all, CARICOM must become a part of the national and regional response of its member states to changing global realities including:

“The continued move toward trade and investment liberalization;

“The critical importance of education and skills training to ensure an efficient and effective labour force;

“The need to improve and expand access to information and communications technologies to improve efficiencies in our economies.

“I believe our determination to make human and social development, a pillar of the Community’s work will place our greatest emphasis where it needs to be; on our youth and on their education and skills training.   This will help us to ensure that future generations of Caribbean people are better prepared to assume productive roles in our societies. 

“This is essential if we are to ensure that economic growth and development in our countries translate into job creation and entrepreneurial and social opportunity for our citizens.”

Peter Odle and CHA join with Prime Minister Ingraham in urging the Heads of Government to quickly take action on these issues as “Our mission at the Caribbean Hotel Association is to build a strong tourism industry for the ultimate benefit of the people of the Caribbean.”