OECS tourism ministers explore ways of increasing region’s competitiveness

St George’s, Grenada — How to remain competitive in the global tourism industry was the context of discussions during the second meeting of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Council of Ministers of Tourism held in Grenada on Thursday.

Tourism ministers from member states, representatives from the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank, the Caribbean Tourism Organization, and the hotel and tourism industry, gathered to evaluate ways of revitalizing the region’s tourism Industry – paying specific attention to opportunities for collaboration.

This year’s theme, “OECS Economic Union: Pushing the Tourism Envelope,” implores the delegates to explore, among other issues, the ease of travel within the region; the World Bank Tourism Competitiveness Project; and opportunities for collaboration between the OECS and Martinique, as well as Cuba.

Some of the issues, indicates Grenada’s minister for tourism and civil aviation, Yolande Bain-Horsford, though dated, are still very much relevant. The minister, speaking at the meeting’s opening ceremony, stressed the need for members to adopt a common approach to tourism development, and find new ways of doing old things.

“We need to put new wine in old and new wine skins. I say old wine skins cause in reaching for what is new, we must not forget ourselves, who we are, and what really makes us unique as a Caribbean people,” she said.

“In this case, we do not expect that these skins will tear but instead better preserve and culture the new adoption so that they too will reflect the true Caribbean spirit – our warmth, our flamboyance, our creativity, our optimism, and passion of life. These must all be part of the envelope that we offer to the rest of the world.”

The change in travel patterns of contemporary travelers, as well as the emergence of new tourism powerhouse destinations, such as Gambia, and the opening up of Cuba were all issues stressed in the opening ceremony. These, among others, were reasons for increased cooperation and reassessments of the ways we market and develop our tourism products, said Dr Didadus Jules, director general of the OECS Commission.

“We can ill afford not to devise innovative strategies to increase our share of the international tourism pie, which by all accounts is diminishing due primarily to stiffening competition by new and emerging destinations,” he said.

According to the director general, some of the fastest growing destinations today are countries that were not associated with leisure travel just 20 years ago – Dubai being a noteworthy example.

The regional response to such developments, said Jules, should be the “reviewing, juxtaposing, and reconfiguring” of the products we offer for export.

“Tourism isn’t just about bringing visitors to our island, but more about getting those visitors to spend much needed foreign exchange in our islands to improve our living standards, he said.

The OECS Council of Ministers of Tourism is one of five new organs outlined by the Revised Treaty of Basseterre establishing the OECS Economic Union

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