CHTA urges CARICOM heads to ease intra-regional travel restrictions
At a press conference in St. Kitts during the CARICOM Heads of Governments meeting, in which tourism was not on the agenda, Josef Forstmayr, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), took the opportunity to focus on crucial economic factors that are being ignored, all of which could have a beneficial impact on the livelihoods of thousands of Caribbean nationals.
Forstmayr said the CHTA is very disappointed that tourism is not an agenda item at the CARICOM meeting going on in St. Kitts, despite the fact that three years ago CARICOM heads decided to make tourism a regular agenda item at all CARICOM meetings.
Forstmayr urged CARICOM heads to fix the regional aviation crisis and facilitate ease of travel for Caribbean nationals throughout the region. “We have heard that several heads of government at this meeting had called for a 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 in our Caribbean hotels just a few years ago.” The number of intra-Caribbean visitors was down to just 566,000 last year according to statistics from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
“An efficient and dynamic aviation policy is fundamental to the economic development of the region and this includes the tourism industry,” said Forstmayr. In October 2007 the CHTA attended the meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico with Caribbean ministers in which they signed off on the San Juan Accord.
This document identified the action steps needed to be urgently undertaken in order to provide the Caribbean with an efficient and productive aviation policy. The stated objective was to “improve the management of international and intra-regional air services in order to maintain and improve the vibrancy and competitiveness of the vital tourism sector, while promoting greater business, social and institutional integration in the region.”
The document stated a deadline of September 30th, 2008 to get all policies in place. Unfortunately these agreed action steps have not come about and the aviation situation both into and within the Caribbean has gone from bad to worse.
The lucrative intra-Caribbean market has stayed predominantly in small, indigenous hotels, owned by Caribbean nationals. The serious downturn of this market, due to the lack of an efficient and affordable intra-regional air service, has had a major economic impact on national economies and small hotels.
“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,” Forstmayr said. “The second part of this problem is to focus on how to facilitate the smooth movement of our visitors, which begins with easy access and fewer visa restrictions between our countries. 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.”
Forstmayr continued, “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.”