Speaking at the 17th meeting of the Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism at the Isla Verde Holiday Inn in San Juan, Puerto Rico, St Lucia’s Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister, Senator Allen Chastanet, lambasted the failure of successive Caribbean governments to tap into the potential of the tourism market.
“This debate must stop. We need to step out of the box and take a very different perspective.
The time for talk is done,” Chastanet passionately declared, saying he will resign from his portfolio if Caricom leaders do not accept the $188 million proposal in July.Terestella Denton, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company also threatened to resign her post if regional governments failed to approve the $M marketing drive as she agreed with Chastanet’s stance, saying the time for action is now.
Chastanet said the Caribbean has squandered its opportunities and is now facing a crisis in the tourism sector as spiralling oil prices threaten to cut off the region’s air links with the rest of the world.
“In the next two years, things are going to be taking place in this world in which we are going to long for the days that we have let go by,” he said. “This industry is ill...Stop waiting for the crisis. The crisis in my mind is in every single opportunity we have allowed to go by.
“We need to step up to the plate because there are other countries in the world who recognise what tourism can do.” Chastanet lamented that while the regional tourism sector experiences an annual growth rate of four percent, the international rate is seven percent. The Caribbean’s share of the tourism market has also fallen from 4.5 percent to 2.5 percent.
“We need action now,” Chastanet said. “I think that time is running out for this region.” Speaking with reporters he revealed that all tourism ministers in the region will meet on May 29 in Antigua as well as on June 24 in Washington, leading up to the Caricom summit in July, where one day has been set aside to deal with the tourism issue.
Asked what measures regional governments will put in place to deal with the tourism crisis, Chastanet said the first issue was increasing demand. “We’ve got to create a stronger demand which can produce a higher yield,” he said. This would come about by improving linkages with the tourism industry and other industries such as music and real estate.
On the issue of the threat to the air bridge posed by increasingly adverse conditions in the world aviation market, Chastanet said the issue of airline subsidies has to be re-considered. “The airline industry is a bridge. It’s infrastructure. You got to treat it as a long-term investment, because (in) this region without aviation we’re dead.”
He criticised governments for levying departure taxes and raising landing fees for airlines when they should be aiding the survival of the air bridge. “We have to look at a different method,” he noted.