Caribbean Leaders Focus On Tourism At Antigua Meeting

Vance W. Amory International Airport - Nevis, West Indies

Vance W. Amory Airport – Nevis, West Indies
Photo By Michael S. Maxson

Basseterre, Saint Kitts – Nevis
July 03, 2008 (CUOPM)

St. Kitts and Nevis‘  Prime Minister and Minister of Tourism, Hon. Dr. Denzil L. Douglas was among Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders who began their first full day of deliberations on Wednesday focusing on the tourism sector that has been a key contributor to their countries’ economies.

There are concerns that recent global developments, such as the rising cost of fuel and changes in flight schedules by US-based airlines, could undermine the viability of an industry that provides thousands of jobs for Caribbean nationals.

The leaders heard special presentations by St. Lucia’s Tourism Minister and Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) Hon. Allan Chastenet and his Antigua and Barbuda counterpart, Hon. Harold Lovell, on efforts to make the sector more competitive in light of the new threats, including a 17 percent cutback in airline services from the United States, – the region’s main tourism market.

Chastenet told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that oil prices were expected to reach an estimated US$170 a barrel and that this could also be accompanied by a 20 percent cut in capacity by the US airlines industry.

“Clearly, as the price of oil continues to increase, that may get more serious,” he said.

The CTO chairman said that the presentation would again emphasise the need for branding the Caribbean, adding a “brand is just not marketing, it is a promise.”

“Unfortunately we have not done that,” he said, adding that the introduction of the satellite accounting system to measure the economic importance of the tourism industry to Caribbean countries was vital.

“Tourism is never reflected in national accounts and if something is not measureable you can’t improve upon it,” he said.

“We are going to do a presentation because we have now found funding to help the governments implement satellite accounting systems in each country.”

The leaders will also discuss the air transportation sector later on Tuesday, with Chastenet indicating that the issue of establishing hubs to service the region would be on the agenda.

“Also, we would be looking at the Caribbean as a single space,” he said, also noting that there is need to combine the various civil aviation authorities in the region.

“One has to consider whether we can achieve more by having one civil aviation authority that would be more cost effective and more prolific in what they are trying to achieve.”

Minister Chastenet said the crisis now confronting the tourism industry has also shown that the operations of the regional airlines are not viable.

“One of the things that all of our airlines are proving in this region is that they are not economically viable, so we know that the model we have been using doesn’t work and I am really hoping that we really have….functional cooperation. There should be at least a meeting a year in which the regional carriers are sitting down and trying to make sure that their schedules are coincided,” he said.

“Why should a person have to leave the Bahamas and have to go the (United) States in order to come to the other parts of the Caribbean? Why can’t that take place through Jamaica and then down into the Eastern Caribbean. It is ridiculous that Caribbean Airlines and LIAT don’t even interlock. So those are the things that we will be bringing to the Heads’ attention and basically saying this is now having a negative impact on our tourism arrivals,” said Chastenet.

Host Prime Minister and new CARICOM Chairman Hon. Baldwin Spencer said that increases in airfares and new airline charges were also contributing to the “bleak perspectives for the region’s tourism-driven economies.”

He said that while he was encouraged by the efforts of the regional airline LIAT to fill the void created by the reduction in airlift by US air carriers, it was not, however, a viable proposition.

“International airlift is a present and critical problem. So, too, regional sea and air transportation for tourism and trade and personal and business travel,” Spencer said.

American Airlines, Delta Airlines and US Airways will maintain their present schedule to St. Kitts. Only American Eagle is to reduce the number of flights into St. Kitts’ Robert L. Bradshaw International Airport and Nevis’ Vance W. Amory International Airport.

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