Minister clarifies St. Kitts story

Your readers will be aware that I recently visited the island of St. Kitts to attend the 12th Annual Florida Caribbean Cruise Conference.

On the last day of my visit, I had a breakfast meeting with Dr. Denzil Douglas, the Prime Minister of St. Kitts, during which we discussed the conference as the Cayman Islands will be the host country next year. We also discussed developments in St. Kitts as they move from the sugar cane industry to the tourism industry.

Unfortunately, my comments to a reporter following that breakfast meeting and reported in Cayman Net News on Wednesday, 5 October 2005, under the headline ‘Cayman takes baton for FCCA’ were taken out of context and created the impression that Cayman would be directly assisting St. Kitts with building their tourism industry.

This is obviously not the case and any assistance offered by the Cayman Islands or any other Caribbean country will be via the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the agency charged with developing and promoting tourism in the Caribbean.

Before clarifying the situation, just let me say that the PPM Government recognizes that as an open, transparent and accountable government, one of the risks we take in interacting with the press (media) frequently is that our comments are sometimes taken out of context, which can paint a distorted picture.

Notwithstanding that, this is a risk that the PPM Government is prepared to live with in order to remain the open, transparent and accountable government that we are.

The Cayman Islands have been very active in the CTO for many years and I am aware that St. Kitts has not been as active in the organization as some other Caribbean countries.

I discussed this with the Prime Minister who is also responsible for tourism in St. Kitts and suggested that he attend the Caribbean Tourism Conference in the US Virgin Islands later this month. I explained to him the benefits of the CTO and that there were often very valuable exchange of ideas at these conferences as Caribbean countries shared with each other what information they could, particularly technical information such as the latest research and marketing tools, to ensure greater awareness of the Caribbean region.

For the avoidance of doubt, Caribbean countries including the Cayman Islands and particularly your Minister of Tourism, understand that we are in competition with each other for tourism but we equally appreciate that there are issues which require a common approach from our countries and the forum to discuss and action these issues is the CTO.

I use as an example the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, which originally required US travellers to the Caribbean to possess a valid passport to re-enter the United States after 1 January, 2006. The Caribbean was successful in convincing the United States to postpone the implementation of this initiative until 1 January, 2007, in order to provide more time for the region to prepare.

Had we failed in our objections to the proposed implementation date of the WHTI, the region’s tourism industries would have been devastated. If the Cayman Islands had stood alone against the WHTI the chances of success would have been very slim indeed.

But like the European Union, we understand that there is strength in numbers.

Another good example of when Caribbean countries should work towards a common approach is in crisis communications. The reason for this is that many potential visitors to Caribbean countries do not differentiate between our various countries but often refer to a vacation in the Cayman Islands, Jamaica, Barbados, Aruba, Anguilla or any other Caribbean island as a vacation in the Caribbean.

It follows that when there is an incident on one of our islands, such as the recent and much published incident in Aruba, it has the potential to negatively impact tourism not just in Aruba but in other Caribbean countries also if it is not handled carefully and appropriately.

I trust that these two examples will illustrate the reasons why it is necessary for Caribbean countries to work together on a number of issues that are to our mutual benefit.

This was the nature of the discussion which I had with Prime Minister Douglas on my final morning in St. Kitts and I hope that this letter will serve to place my comments in the proper context.

I would also like to add that on his part, Prime Minister Douglas was a gracious host and provided useful advice on hosting such a large conference, as the Cayman Islands has the honour of doing next year.

Charles E. Clifford, Minister of Tourism, Environment, Investment and Commerce