CTO Chairman calls on tourism stakeholders to set aside differences that divide them

Sen. the Hon. Richard “Ricky” Skerritt (right) with United States Virgin Islands tourism officials in St. Thomas. (Virgin Islands Daily News photo)

BASSETERRE, ST.KITTS, MARCH 30TH 2012 (CUOPM) – In an address entitled, “There’s Never Been a More Crucial Time in Caribbean Tourism,” Chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), Senator the Hon. Richard Skerritt says it was imperative stakeholders set aside the differences that divide them.

“We don’t have to agree on everything in order to improve our own product standards and contribute to a better island experience for visitors. We don’t have to be political supporters of the government to understand that successful destination tourism is achieved only by uniters, not by dividers,” during an address at the Marriott Frenchman’s Reef and Morning Star Resort in St. Thomas, United States Virgin Islands.

The CTO chairman, who is also St. Kitts and Nevis’ Minister of Tourism, asserted cooperation was needed between states and with major stakeholders: “No matter who is in government, tourism success is crucial to our country’s future and must therefore be important to all of us. And we don’t have to be rocket scientists to learn that the public and private sectors need to be partners if we are to advance and sustain our market recovery.”

Invoking the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child,” Skerritt, a University of the Virgin Islands and University of Oxford scholar said the Caribbean must work together both as a destination and as a region to compete in a very complex and demanding tourism marketplace.

“Ours is a marketplace that is overburdened by the stresses of life – continued unemployment, high fuel prices, increasing food prices, worrying political conflict, and unprecedented natural disasters. But it is also a marketplace we think is ready to accept that Life Needs the Caribbean.”

Pointing to the myriad issues affecting tourism – from “taxation gone crazy” to intra-regional travel, advocacy, effective marketing, service excellence and the link between visitor expenditure and wealth creation – the CTO chairman said tourism has become an even more competitive business since the recent US recession and consequent worldwide economic downturn.

“Now is therefore the time to explore new possibilities,” he counseled, “and rather than sit back and wait for the tourists to come to us, we must work even harder and smarter to overturn complacency and become a region that is once again rife with tourism promise.”

Chairman Skerritt contended future tourism success will need a more organized, proactive and creative private sector in order to drive new employment, investment and growth, while satisfying demanding visitors. “It will also need Government officials who give more than lip service to the concept of partnership.”

To help deal with the marketplace challenges facing the region’s tourism industry, the CTO and its private sector partner Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association(CHTA) have injected new life into the Caribbean Tourism Development Company(CTDC) to market the Caribbean brand to global audiences, starting with the online marketing platform, Caribbeantravel.com.

Virgin Islands hotelier and CHTA president-elect, Richard Doumeng, said that the renewed partnership is due, in no small way, to the skilled leadership of Minister Skerritt and CHTA President Josef Forstmayr, the co-chairs of CTDC.

“For so long – both nationally and regionally – governments and businesses have lived in some sort of parallel universes, (but now) we have forged our way to a bright future of cooperation and results.”

Senator Skerritt, a Rhodes Scholar, congratulated local tourism stakeholders for hosting the meeting, and urged “in the final analysis this gathering will mean very little unless each of you leaves here more committed to identify and take action on what needs to be done for your own future tourism success ….now is the time for doing. Now is the time for action.”

Also addressing the meeting was Hugh Riley, CTO’s Secretary General. Both Senator Skerritt and Riley have embarked on a series of road trips to spread the Caribbean tourism gospel to CTO members.

USVI Commissioner of Tourism Beverly Nicholson-Doty said the US Virgin Islands is fully committed to a united approach to marketing the Caribbean region as apreferred tourism destination and declared her support for consolidated regional approaches.

Commissioner Nicholson-Doty voicing her endorsement said: “As the Virgin Islands we may often think that we can go it alone, but I am here this morning to assure you that we can’t.”

Underscoring the Caribbean brand has never been more important she contended: “It is so crucial for us as a region to recognize our dependence and inter-dependence on each other to survive.”

Banding together, she added, was especially critical on issues such as airlift and cruise calls to the region.

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