Acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, addressing the opening of the 11th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre. (A. Miller/BGIS)
"The building of relationships of trust between the local communities and our visitors is an indispensable element in the sustainability of our product offering."
This was a key message delivered by Acting Prime Minister Freundel Stuart, as he addressed the opening of the 11th Annual Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism Development, at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, last Sunday evening.
Offering a definition of sustainable tourism, Mr. Stuart said: "What sustainable tourism is able to achieve is a harmony between visitors, locals and the environment that allows the industry to flourish without unnecessary impediment. In this context, the level of tourism awareness in the community would always be a strong determinant of the sustainability of the tourism product."
The Acting Prime Minister also identified other factors of sustainable tourism and noted: "The element of service is organic to the success of the tourism product… If we are to remain destinations of choice in this region, all of our human resources, present and future, those directly involved in the industry and those ancillary to it, must be trained and equipped to meet globally accepted standards."
While he pointed out that local communities could not be excluded from the benefits which participation in the industry allowed, Mr. Stuart called for a carefully managed partnership between communities and governments "to facilitate effective linkages between those communities and the more established actors in the industry".
He added: "Those with an entrepreneurial bent in the community often need access to funds to finance the creation of small tourism businesses; training in order to offer a high-quality of service; and marketing support in order to make their projects both profitable and sustainable.????????
"Governments and established private sector agencies must continue to work with communities to assist them in confronting these challenges. They must also exploit their links with those international lending agencies that support tourism projects for small and micro enterprises."
It was further noted that if the economic environment discouraged continuing investment in the industry, the prospect of developing a sustainable tourism product would be placed at risk. And, Mr. Stuart pointed out: "The effectiveness and transparency of the incentives regime, designed to encourage investments in the industry, must be kept under constant and searching review. Potential investors need an attractive fiscal and regulatory framework so that they can realise meaningful returns on their investments."
The region was also told that it needed to aim to attract international brands, and visitors loyal to those brands. The Acting Prime Minister urged delegates "not to lose sight of the fact" that the industry was dynamic, with a "more discerning and sometimes more fastidious visitor". ??"It is important, therefore, that industry planners, governments included, so diversify our product offerings that the visitor is kept both expectant and excited," Mr. Stuart maintained.
A call was also made for the region to pursue strategic innovation in the industry to keep the product fresh; explore and exploit niche markets in order to ensure competitiveness in the destination; invest in needed subsectors like visitor attractions, and in supports such as proper road signage that would help to ensure the development and sustainability of our product.
Noting that a safe and secure environment was also important, the Acting Prime Minister indicated: "In recent years, uncertainty about the safety of travel to particular destinations has led to significant fluctuations in visitor flows. Safety and security issues like rising crime rates, visitor harassment and drug trafficking should be regarded as critical regional issues for the sustainability of tourism in the Latin American and Caribbean region.
Mr. Stuart also spoke about preserving the natural environment through careful planning of the types and location of new development projects, as well as the need for improved environmental management practices. And, he stressed the importance of the right combination of air, sea and ground transportation, and providing the right level of accessibility.
He declared: "As most of us are island nations, we have little choice but to aim to develop efficient and cost effective transportation options to facilitate a sustainable level of destination accessibility."