Minister for Tourism and Environment Charles Clifford has called on his fellow ministers of tourism, environment and culture in the region to roll up their sleeves and get involved in tourism sustainability.
At the opening of the ninth annual Sustainable Tourism Development conference at the Westin Casuarina Resort Monday evening Mr. Clifford told his fellow ministers, ‘We must become stewards of tourism sustainable development and lead by example.
‘No longer can we be content with being consumers of the precious resources that our islands have to offer but we must also be protectors of these very resources.
‘My appeal this evening is this: make these issues a national priority within your respective destinations and let us work together for this cause through this wonderful regional organisation: the Caribbean Tourism Organisation.’
Mr. Clifford said the future of the Cayman Islands tourism industry does not lie in mass tourism, but in achieving the right balance between the environmental, economic and socio-cultural aspects of tourism development.
‘Equally important is the continual monitoring and management so that the right balance is maintained in the years to come,’ he said.
Secretary General of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace called on Caribbean nations to unite and stand up to industrialised countries putting taxes on people travelling to the Caribbean as a way of addressing the greenhouse gas issue, something he referred to as ludicrous.
‘It’s the stock of greenhouse gases we have to address and now what they’re doing is they are punishing those very areas like the Caribbean that were behaving in a way that was very friendly to the environment by punishing people for travelling to our areas.
‘The Caribbean needs to unite on this and talk to the UK Government so this does not spread. Because if this is allowed to spread it really would be an absolute travesty,’ he said.
Mr. Clifford noted that the Cayman Islands government is in the process of introducing and enacting progressive legislation to meet the variety of challenges created by emerging environmental issues at both a local and global level.
These include the National Conservation Bill, and amendments to the Marine Conservation Law.
Cayman’s cultural heritage has been interwoven into tourism attractions such as Boatswain’s Beach, Pedro St James and the newly opened Mission House.
Go East is another example of a sustainable tourism project, he said.
A new customer service programme will assist in raising customer service standards from good to great.
He said this year is an excellent time for the Cayman Islands to host the conference because of a number of things converging this year: The review and update of the National Tourism Management Policy; the tabling of the National Conservation Bill; the launch of the Cayman Islands Environmental Project for the Tourism sector; and growing community-wide willingness to change individual behaviours and business practices.
Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace said that moving sustainable development from a fringe idea to the core of what the CTO is involved in is a main goal.
Speaking about the theme of the conference, Health and Wellness, Mr. Vanderpool-Wallace said tourism is all to do with healing the mind, body and spirit.
He explained that the word travel comes from the word travail, which means to work in French.
‘Why did people endure weeks of travail in the 15th and 16th Century to go from Europe and North America in these ships that were smelly and unsanitary to come to the Caribbean? There was only one reason – because they saw the Caribbean as being the Mecca for health and wellness.
‘Health and wellness is not a niche market. It is the bedrock on which Caribbean travel is based’.
The word hospital is in the word hospitality because it has to do with health, with getting people healed, he said.
‘The same thing applies to recreation. What is recreation? We are recreating ourselves. Vacation – vacate your mind and get and feel better,’ he said.
After 9/11 the public and private sectors came together with the slogan Life needs the Caribbean. People understood this, he said.
Even the Financial Times carried a front page article noting that experiences rather than materialistic possessions are what create happiness.
The article mentioned diving, spas, concerts rather than possessions like a new home, car or watches.
‘We just need to show the world that life really doesn’t need a new Ferrari, life doesn’t need a new fancy watch; life doesn’t need another wonderful house. If we do our jobs right and we do all the things we are talking about here today we can show the world that life only needs one thing – life needs the Caribbean’.
Director of Tourism Pilar Bush welcomed all to the conference and said the Cayman Islands welcomes the opportunity to host the conference and to have dialogue with neighbouring countries and with partner organisations.
She added that while visiting delegates are in the Cayman Islands, feedback will be welcomed on the country and its tourism product.
‘We are very honest about this. You are perhaps some of the most seasoned travellers to our region and we welcome your thoughts and insights and suggestions on how we can make it better.’
She said she hoped the conference would result in exchange of ideas and resulting action.
‘We believe that if we put into action those things which we know need to be done and those things we can do there will be a positive benefit for tourism in the entire region’.
The opening ceremony featured a cultural extravaganza with kitchen band Swanky and energetic moves from Dance Unlimited.
STC-9 continues through Thursday in Grand Cayman and sees 300 delegates partake in it.