Speeches and other documents by the Secretary General


November 27, 2017 - Montego Bay, Jamaica

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Tourism has the potential to significantly contribute to broad-based inclusive growth and generate more opportunities of progress for the Caribbean. Notwithstanding the strong performance of the industry in recent years, the challenges, threats and risks to the future of the sector must be assessed to ensure that the region remains competitive and that the sector is sustainable over time.

Dear Friends,

• Let me first of all say how pleased I am to be here in Montego Bay, and to be taking part in this Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism.

• Minister Bartlett, Secretary General Rifai, thank you for the kind invitation to be a part of the most important tourism conference to be held in the Americas in 2017. Having this conference here in Jamaica and the Caribbean – the most tourism dependent region in the world - is a testament to the importance of the sector to the region and Jamaica’s leadership in tourism at the global level and as an iconic world tourism destination.

• This Global Conference is being held at the end of the tropical hurricane season which -as we have seen- has been one of the most intense and destructive in recent memory.

• This past September, we were all witness to the devastating impact of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Hurricane Irma turned 90% of homes on the island of Barbuda to rubble and left financial losses of $100-200 million. Hurricane Maria will cost Dominica 200% of its GDP. We are well aware of the widespread devastation to the US territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

• It is well documented by scientists the world-over that these events are largely due to the changes to our climate and are likely to increase in frequency and voracity. The reality is that the Latin American and Caribbean regions are among the most climate vulnerable regions in the world.

• Many developing small island and low-lying coastal states face grave threats to their survival and viability from climate change and rising sea levels.

• This reality forces us to re-examine all aspects of our socio-economic development. It means that we have to adapt and adjust, not just the structural integrity of our buildings but their location. It has implications for our energy supply our waste management practices, and most importantly our fragile tourism industry. With tourism being so essential to the economic survival of the Caribbean region, the urgency of our actions are critical.

• How then do we ensure that we build resilience within this industry when the very natural product that we depend on for tourism is under threat?

• I believe that the resilience of the tourism industry must be an attraction in- and- of- itself, by that I mean we must re-orient our tourism products to be centered around the issue of environmental responsibility and sustainability, the visitors we attract to our shores must be drawn to us to be part of the solution. They must be stewards of the environment and soldiers in the fight against climate change. They must want to come not only to enjoy but to share and to build. They must appreciate their role in constructing the resilience of this region.

• There is resounding evidence from multiple studies that consumers continue to be interested in tourism products that are geared towards environmental protection and are beneficial to local communities. Recent data indicates that about 73% of millennials are willing to pay more for sustainability compared to 51% of baby-boomers. What this tells us is that our tourism products, experiences and marketing must be extremely well-defined and targeted. If indeed, we are to build resilient communities and countries, we must project to the outside world the seriousness of our commitment.

• My Friends what obtained only a few months ago can no longer be. The Caribbean must agree on a common definition as to what resilience means and work collectively towards it.

• In the wake of the destructive hurricanes in the region, the OAS hosted a meeting of Caribbean leaders leading international institutions and private sector officials including Sir Richard Branson, which sought to put together a broad-based multi-sector coalition to mobilize private sector funding of climate change resilience initiatives in the region as the foundation for urgent action. As a follow-up to this meeting, I have been invited to participate in the ‘Caribbean Climate Smart Coalition” meeting scheduled for Grenada December 5-7, the OAS remains committed to do all it can to assist as part of this coalition.

• At the OAS, we are working closely with both the international community and the Caribbean to identify short and medium term strategies to help the recovery of the tourism industry in those Caribbean countries most affected by the recent hurricanes and to assist in the rebuilding of the tourism plant, particularly the small tourism enterprise sector.

• Resilient countries require resilient people and communities.

• Yet, Latin America and the Caribbean remains the world’s most unequal region with unacceptably high poverty rates of almost 30% [29.2%, ECLAC 2016]. After falling significantly during last decade [from 43.9% in 2002 to 28.8% in 2012], the number of poor is now increasing and stood at 175 million people in 2015.

• Poverty is not solely the product of low or no income in the region but also the result of lack of opportunities.

• Poverty and exclusion disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, deepening inequality.

• Tourism has a major role to play in the building resiliency of our people

• Tourism generates employment opportunities for workers who may otherwise be outside of the formal labor market. In the Caribbean, Tourism generates over 2.5 million jobs
• The tourism industry also provides opportunities for small entrepreneurs and suppliers of services linked to the sector.
• While travel and tourism activities remain some of the most highly taxed (hotel room taxes, hotel property taxes, airline ticket taxes, airport taxes, taxes on restaurant food and beverage etc.), income from these sources allows governments to contribute to poverty reduction efforts through redistributive payments directly to the poor, investments in social and economic infrastructure and other developments in poor communities.

• Since taking office in May 2015, broadening opportunities for all citizens has been a central piece of our strategy, as we repositioned the OAS to become a beacon for the defense of human rights and democracy in the hemisphere. We have been guided by the motto “More Rights for More People.”

• Diversity and inclusiveness are essential values for our businesses and the economy. Having ALL the voices, ideas and perspectives represented is a true strength, not a weakness. Tourism affords us the opportunity to welcome people of all cultures and nationalities. In the Americas it has the potential to further strengthen our solidarity and nowhere is this more needed than at a time when we face common challenges in our quest to attain more sustainable models of existence.

• We need to work to improve our enabling ecosystems; thinking globally and acting locally; nurturing assets and capabilities in each of our communities; building on our comparative and competitive advantages, our biodiversity, culture and identity.

• Tourism is the life blood for the countries of the Caribbean and for many other countries in the Americas but several challenges exist: the need for deeper integration of Caribbean tourism with local agriculture, fisheries or manufacturing, instead of relying on more expensive imported inputs; the high cost of regional air travel, intra-regional connectivity, and energy; the inadequacy of training opportunities and skills to meet the future needs of the industry; tourism safety and security. All of these issues affect the region’s ability to remain competitive and for the sector to be sustainable and resilient over time.

• Addressing these challenges requires to focus on the development and strengthening of partnerships – partnerships between government and the private sector, partnerships between local stakeholders and tourism authorities, between local and state actors as well as partnerships among the international tourism community.

• The extraordinary partnership between the UNWTO, the Government of Jamaica, the World Bank and so many other agencies and sponsors in organizing this historic event in Jamaica is proof of what is possible when we collaborate. Through this partnership and this event we are shining a brighter light on and contributing to increasing the awareness of the role of tourism in development.

• This Global Conference, as noted by Secretary General Rifai notes in his message for this event, provides an important opportunity to spur changes in policy, business practices and consumer behavior for sustainable tourism development across the globe. Let us begin in the Caribbean.

• I wish you much success over the next days of this Conference and look forward to welcoming many of you to Guyana next March at the 24th Inter-American Congress of Ministers and High-Level Authorities of Tourism.