Media Center



April 10, 1997 - San José, Costa Rica

It is an honor and pleasure to be in Costa Rica to address the XVII Inter-American Travel Congress, the only hemispheric forum that facilitates high-level dialogue between tourism ministers, government officials, and now, for the first time, representatives of the Hemisphere's private sector. Costa Rica has plenty to offer visitors and many lessons to teach in the area of the sustainable use of natural resources. I am certain that their guidance over the next two days, through the skill and expertise of Minister Roesch, will serve us well as we seek to define a new, catalytic role for this and future Congresses. I want to extend personally my profound gratitude to the Government and people of Costa Rica for hosting this historic Congress, and for the hospitality they have so generously offered.

The theme of this Congress, "Public-Private Sector Collaboration for Sustainable Tourism Development", is timely and appropriate, following on discussions at the XVI Congress in Panama, and in the Permanent Executive Committee, to make future Congresses more inclusive and relevant to changing global market imperatives. Since the Panama Congress, the OAS has actively sought meaningful collaboration with the private sector and with regional and international agencies, in an effort to convert into a reality the political will of governments to elevate tourism into an important economic alternative. Your presence, and the participation of the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency in this year's Congress, is sound evidence of the beginning of a new and more intense phase of cooperation that involves all stakeholders.

In keeping with the theme of the Congress and the just concluded Investment Forum, sponsored by MIGA, I want to make some comments on the new international context in which tourism must develop and thrive, and the OAS's responses to these new realities. Later, I will conclude with some thoughts on the path for further development of the Congress as a forum for dialogue and cooperation.

For a long time, tourism, being a leisure industry, was unable to attract serious attention from governments and multilateral financial institutions. Tourism was seen solely as a private sector activity with governments, in most cases, obstructing, rather than facilitating the process. But, rising expectations, increased income and leisure time, and technological changes in transportation and communication, as well as the erosion of trade preferences and the emergence of new trading blocs, all have combined to create a revolution in the services sector. This has changed how we view the travel and tourism industry and its contribution to national wealth and development.

The travel and tourism industry has undergone substantial growth and noticeable structural change in recent decades. Today, travel and tourism is the largest global industry and a significant generator of employment, income, and foreign exchange; and the sector is expected to continue to grow exponentially, driven by the same fundamental motivations that have propelled tourism in previous decades.

These developments are also taking place at a time of significant change in consumers' travel demands and preferences. International tourists are no longer satisfied with simply a holiday by the beach, but demand an active or more involved travel experience. They are increasingly seasoned, value-conscious, and sophisticated in their requirements, resulting in a growing market for more ?individual' forms of travel, specialized packages, and for travel that emphasizes quality and an authentic local experience. If tourist destinations are to compete effectively, therefore, they must enhance the quality of their product and, in particular, the level of service provided by the workforce.

At the same time that the tourism industry is being forced to respond to a range of new opportunities and challenges, governments, academics, and regional and international agencies also must redefine their image and their role in the changing industry. To remain competitive, public/private sector synergies must be systematically sought, through genuine dialogue, to develop a hemispheric tourism policy that draws strength from cooperation without sacrificing the interests of individual Member States, or the appeal of national tourism products. Strategies for efficient, orderly, and environmentally-respectful tourism development must aim for increased and sustainable growth, based on the full understanding of critical elements required to achieve this objective, and cemented by a common commitment between the public and private sectors to work together to conserve the patrimony for future generations.

The OAS, under the direction of the General Assembly and the Congress, has long been involved in spurring tourism development in this Hemisphere. The OAS understands the importance of the industry to the development of many Member States, and sees tourism as a meaningful index of the democratic character of a country. Tourism flourishes and provides the greatest opportunities and benefits in a safe, stable, democratic environment, as is the case here in Costa Rica.

Over the past three years, in keeping with this philosophy, the General Secretariat has re-evaluated it's role, functions, and programs, and is in the final stages of restructuring the Secretariat to better satisfy the demands of the Member States in a changing global environment. In this respect, special significance is attached to the establishment of the Inter-Sectoral Unit for Tourism in June of last year. This is an important development not only because tourism is the among the top three earners of income in almost half of the OAS Member States, but also because the tourism industry can respond uniquely to the essential purposes of the OAS, namely, the promotion of peace, democracy, and sustainable development.

Two of the most critical tasks of the Inter-Sectoral Unit for Tourism, during this initial phase of its existence, is to forge new cooperative and functional linkages within and outside the sector; and to strengthen the political process by enhancing dialogue at all levels and with all stakeholders, public and private alike, to facilitate more effective policy making.

Vital to the accomplishment of these objectives is the technical and administrative support the Tourism Unit provides to the Inter-American Travel Congress; the assistance it affords Member States in the identification of collective tourism opportunities and problems, and the development of solutions to those problems; as well as its ability to facilitate access to different policy options for Member States and to propose priorities for action.

Mr. Chairman, we all seek to guarantee the sustainable growth of tourism in our Hemisphere, based on a holistic, hemispheric view that recognizes the critical inter-relationship between economic and social concerns and the preservation of our eco-systems. Therefore, Mr. Chairman, I see the future role of the revived congress as a supportive and catalytic one, which facilitates dialogue on hemispheric policy in five critical, tourism-related areas.

The first is the initiation of open dialogue on the free movement of people and tourism services among Member States to promote the integration of the diverse regions of our Hemisphere. The problems confronting trade in international tourism services in the world are many and varied, and barriers to international travel can seriously hamper the growth of tourism. If the barriers to travel can be eliminated or even reduced, that will mean freer trade in tourism, higher tourism receipts, increasing job opportunities, and, equally important, increased political stability. The countries in this region have a unique opportunity, in this forum, to coordinate efforts to harmonize legislation and liberalize and standardize procedures and incentives, in order to build integrated tourist circuits and facilitate the development of intra-regional tourism.

A second area in desperate need of coordinated policy direction is the cruise industry, which has experienced unprecedented growth over the past five years. Despite its increasing contribution to many economies in the region, many Member States do not have clearly enunciated cruise industry policies. This is an area of challenge and enormous opportunity in which the Congress can initiate and encourage high-level dialogue aimed at the development of a unified policy, and perhaps model legislation, that can benefit both present and future cruise destinations. This exercise should draw on existing national legislation and international conventions, such as the MARPOL Convention.

The third area I encourage the Congress to examine is the role and impact of changing information technology on the Member States' tourism development efforts. Reliable research, good market intelligence, and the employment of sophisticated technology will determine whether or not the Hemisphere can continue to be competitive. Decision-making at all levels in the tourism industry will have to be buttressed by an up-to-date and comprehensive information base, using modern tools and techniques. Regional cooperation will be a critical factor in the achievement of our hemispheric goals in this regard. Over the next two days, the Congress must pay close attention the need to establish information sharing mechanisms, capitalizing on the unique ability of the OAS to facilitate dialogue and the exchange of experiences and ideas.

Fourth, notwithstanding its importance as a forum for dialogue, the OAS and the Congress must not loose sight of their accumulated strengths, leadership role, and outstanding contributions over past decades in the areas of Tourism Awareness, Education and Training; Physical and Development Planning; Research; and Marketing and Promotion. To build on this rich legacy, I want to encourage greater collaboration between the private and public sectors in developing and executing economically self-sustaining technical cooperation projects. The Congress, through its Permanent Secretariat, must aggressively seek alternative sources of financing and other forms of support in order to continue the delivery of these needed technical assistance programs, for which the OAS is highly regarded throughout the Hemisphere. It also should explore possibilities for becoming more self-reliant and innovative in promoting activities that are relevant to, and supportive of, private/public sector initiatives.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, through this forum, the Member States must tackle the tourism initiative to which the Heads of State and Government of this Hemisphere committed themselves during the Summit of the Americas, and ensure that this Summit initiative receives the attention it deserves. This responsibility has been thrust upon the Congress by the very designation of this meeting as a Summit implementation activity. As such, it is incumbent upon the ministers and government officials present here today, in cooperation with the private sector, to explore possible paths for advancing this initiative to the next stage. The Congress might consider developing a more detailed sustainable tourism development action plan than currently exists, which would offer concrete recommendations for further action in order to ensure measurable progress in the near future. The OAS and, in particular, the Inter-American Travel Congress, is in the best position to provide leadership in this area.

Mr. Chairman, recognizing that the public and private sectors are inextricably linked, and must work together in a productive and collaborative way to reinforce common values and project a shared vision of the future, Member States must take advantage of the natural modalities which can improve conditions and market possibilities for each of the countries. I am convinced that a restructured and reinvigorated Inter-American Travel Congress, strengthened by the active participation of the private sector, can be become the forum for fermenting innovative and creative ideas to help shape the direction and destiny for tourism in this Hemisphere, through the millennium and beyond.

We have the opportunity, Mr. Chairman, to ensure that this XVII Inter-American Travel Congress will be remembered as the Congress which brought a new relevance and direction to the hemispheric deliberations on tourism, creating in its wake, one of the most effective policy institutions for the future. Over the next two days, let us seize this opportunity by laying the groundwork on which we can build a hemispheric industry that can provide sustainable benefits for future generations.