BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Thursday September 4, 2014, CMC – The 22nd Inter-American Congress of Ministers and High-level Authorities of Tourism began here on Wednesday with Caribbean countries being told that they needed to do more to improve the competitiveness of the region’s tourism industry.
“The tourism industry saw growth in the past year. Tourism goods and services, direct and indirect, represented nine percent of the Gross Domestic Product – one in 11 jobs – and accounted for more than US $1 billion in international receipts worldwide in 2013,” said the Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS), Albert Ramdin.
The September 3-4 meeting brings together representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean and is the first time it is being held in an English-speaking Caribbean for more than two decades.
It is being held under the theme “Tourism Competitiveness: An Essential Component of Sustainability”.
Ramdin said that data from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation indicate that in 2013 the Americas received 168 million international arrivals, or 15 percent of the worldwide arrivals.
He told the conference that international tourism receipts in the region were US$229 million, or 20 per cent of worldwide tourism receipts.
He said this is an indication that the Americas represents a significant chunk of the world tourism business.
Despite these developments, Ramdin said, competitiveness remains a critical issue for many countries in the Americas.
“Ensuring that destinations in OAS member states optimize their attractiveness and ability to deliver quality, innovative and sustainable tourism services to consumers in an increasingly competitive marketplace is a matter of crucial importance,” Ramdin added.
Ramdin also lamented “the relative limited transportation options and connections between OAS member states”.
“Recently we have seen an improvement in this regard in this region and this development should certainly be encouraged,” he said.
Barbados Tourism Minister Richard Sealy noted that the World Tourism Organisation attributes the extraordinary growth of international tourism over the last decades, from 25 million tourists in 1950 to 1.035 billion in 2012, in part to the advances in air transport.
“The travel and tourism report of 2013 indicated that globally air transport supports 34.5 million jobs within tourism, contributing around US $762 billion per year to the global GDP (gross domestic product),” he said.
Sealy noted that if the region wishes to sustain its tourism product, it is necessary to diversify its product offering.
“The diversification of our product will only be a reality if it is accompanied by the necessary airlift from non-traditional destinations,” he said, noting that, historically, Caribbean countries have limited their tourism marketing to North America and Europe, while not fully exploring the potential of creating direct air routes with their Latin American neighbours.
He told the meeting that Barbados has sought to change that pattern through the Barbados Tourism Marketing Incorporated.
“We have benefitted from a direct air service from Sao Paulo Brazil since June 2010. This service has contributed approximately 4,641 visitors from this new market since 2013.
“Sao Paulo, the largest city in the Americas and one of the largest in the world, and one of the major centre of both culture and economic activity, represents our first gateway in our plans to expand aggressively into Latin America.
“Our diversification policy has also led the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc. to negotiate to expand our air linkages to Bogota Colombia. We expect this strategy to pay dividends as Bogota is one of the largest cities in South America,” Sealy said.
The tourism officials meeting here also raised concern over the anticipated impact of climate change on sea level rises on the societies and economies of island states and low-lying coastal countries.
“Much more progress is needed to start implementing adapting policies and to reduce the risk,” Ambassador Ramdin said.
“And I hope that the meeting of Small Island Developing States that is taking place in Samoa will lead to complete measures to address severe concerns associated with climate change,” he added.