The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association has called for fewer restrictions in intra-island travel.
Josef Forstmayr, president of the association, told a news conference at the CARICOM Heads of Governments Meeting in St. Kitts that crucial economic factors were being ignored at the meeting, which does not have a specific tourism focus on the agenda.
“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.”
The number of intra-Caribbean visitors was down to 566,000 last year, according to statistics from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization.
“An efficient and dynamic aviation policy is fundamental to the economic development of the region and this includes the tourism industry,” Mr. Forstmayr said.
He added that the San Juan Accord has been signed as far back as 2007. The document identified what needed to be done to provide an efficient and productive pan-Caribbean aviation policy, by September 2008. This would provide competitiveness in the tourism sector and promote business, social and institutional integration. Because the intra-Caribbean market tends to stay in small, locally-owned hotels, this market downturn has impacted on economies, Mr. Forstmayr said.
In addition, visa restrictions were continuing to make travel difficult within the Caribbean.
“It is ludicrous to have visa regimes between CARICOM countries. Our nationals should be able to travel freely from one Caribbean island to another. 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.
“We in the Caribbean hotel industry recognize that the economic importance of travel and tourism to the Caribbean is indisputable.
However, 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,” Mr. Forstmayr said.
Travel and tourism directly and indirectly employs more than 1.9 million people in the Caribbean, counting for one in every nine jobs, he said, and accounts for 12.8 per cent of GDP which is more than any other world region.
“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.
“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,” Mr. Forstmayr said.