It is always a pleasure to be here in Pure (and Beautiful) Grenada – still the Spice of the Caribbean. I always feel at home whenever I visit Grenada because of the sincerity and genuine hospitality of Grenadians. This evening I have the privilege of representing Mr. Hugh Riley – Secretary General and CEO of the Caribbean Tourism Organization – who sends his apologies for not being able to attend this 3rd Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism due to an unavoidable commitment overseas.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization would like to thank the Government of Grenada for hosting this important and timely Symposium. The Ministry of Tourism, the Grenada Tourism Authority, the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association and other stakeholders have collaborated with the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Center for Responsible Travel over the past few months to bring this event to fruition.
When we were invited by CREST to partner with them on this initiative we agreed because of the Symposium’s focus on innovative approaches to addressing coastal and related sustainable tourism issues such as green finance for sustainable tourism, eco-certification for resorts, strengthening linkages between tourism and other industries as well as greening marinas, spas and golf courses. To put the ensuing discussions in a broader context, we should first acknowledge that tourism’s direct and indirect contribution to the social and economic development of the Caribbean is significant. The Caribbean welcomed more than 25 million stayover visitors and nearly 22 million cruise passenger visits in 2013 alone. These visitors collectively spent an estimate of more than 28 billion dollars which would have had a multiplier effect on the economies of Caribbean destinations and the livelihoods of their communities.
Caribbean destinations, as global tourism players, span the full continuum of mature to emerging tourist destinations, many as small island developing states. Even as Caribbean countries diversify their economic bases, tourism can still play an instrumental role in economic revitalization through its linkages with a host of other industries – agriculture, fishing, manufacturing, services, education, culture and transportation to name a few. However, in planning, developing and managing tourism with a view towards its sustainability, not only should we focus on the economic impact of tourism but also on the inter-connected planned and unplanned social and environmental impacts.
With approximately 70% of Caribbean populations living on or near the coast, coastal areas as well as coastal and marine activities such as fishing, yachting and tourism are extremely important to the Caribbean. While the Caribbean tourism product is diversified, top of mind for many visitors is our spectacular coastlines, beaches and marine activities from scuba diving to sailing. However, as with most industries that rely on the use of scarce natural resources, the environmental impact of tourism on our coastal zones and inland can be substantial if not heeded and managed well.
We have before us, over the next two days, the opportunity to not just dialogue about key issues that affect coastal and marine environments and tourism products, but to benefit by avoiding the same mistakes that other destinations have made and to generate tangible solutions. Sustainable tourism is about balancing competing needs and interests as well as participatory and integrated planning and management. A rough blueprint for addressing the challenges and embracing opportunities for enhancing Caribbean coastal and marine tourism based on collaborative regional and national level actions are the expected outcomes. Some of the world’s most successful tourist destinations today made many mistakes along the way. But it’s not just about avoiding the pitfalls but about getting it right and striving to make sure that the various stakeholders understand that they have an important role to play in sustainable tourism development and management so that everybody wins.
With over 40 million cruise and stay-over visitors to the Caribbean annually, we have over 40 million opportunities to demonstrate that we can address our environmental challenges and to engender mutual respect for the natural resources on which tourism is hinged. Failure to protect our fragile coral reefs, terrestrial and marine biodiversity, our beaches and coastal zones, our mangroves and the livelihoods of traditional fishing and coastal communities is not an option. With the added impacts of climate change, it has become even more imperative that countries adopt an integrated planning and more sustainable approach to managing our coastal and marine assets.
Through events such as this Symposium, we will realize that Caribbean countries have similar challenges and the key is to share our experiences and best practices in the quest to find innovative solutions. Delegates will be able to interact with leading hoteliers who are internationally recognized for their sustainability practices, developers, environmental experts, researchers, international development agency and NGO representatives and other tourism practitioners.
The Caribbean Tourism Organization is committed to the vision of positioning the Caribbean as the most desirable, year round warm weather destination by 2017 and leading sustainable tourism in the Caribbean because we share One Sea, should speak with One Voice and we are One Caribbean.
We look forward to a successful Symposium with engaging discussions and healthy debates led by a cast of speakers and moderators from across the region and beyond.