Tourism stakeholders want travel restrictions eased
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association has urged CARICOM heads to ease intra-regional travel restrictions and implement a dynamic aviation policy.
BASSETERRE, St. Kitts, Monday July 4, 2011 – 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, even as he expressed disappointment that tourism was not on the agenda of regional leaders who met over the weekend.
The number of intra-Caribbean visitors declined to 566,000 last year, according to statistics from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and Forstmayr said the powers that be need take action now.
“We have heard that several heads of government at this meeting had called for reduction in travel restrictions. 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,” he said.
"During these challenging times for our international tourism markets there is the very real opportunity for us to develop a strong and robust intra-Caribbean market which we had in previous years and would help to make a positive contribution to national economies.”
The CHTA 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,” the association said.
Forstmayr pointed out that although regional heads had three years ago committed to making tourism a regular topic of discussion at all their meetings, tourism had been left off the agenda for the just ended 32nd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in St. Kitts.
The CHTA suggested that the sector has not received as much attention as it deserves.
As a case in point, it noted that in October 2007, Caribbean ministers signed off on the San Juan Accord which identified the action steps needed to be urgently 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, the CHTA 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 percent of the Caribbean's economic activity - more than in 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,” the CHTA boss said.
“We need to continue to remind our own people that 'tourism business means jobs' not only in the hotels, but for the taxis, the restaurants and the farmers and fishermen that fill the restaurants with food. It also means work for the seamstress, crafts people, shopkeepers and manufacturers, including all their workers plus the deliverymen as well as the trash collectors.”
Click here to receive free news bulletins via email from Caribbean360. ( )