President of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) Josef Forstmayr has pleaded with CARICOM heads to fix the regional aviation crisis and facilitate ease of intra-regional travel, even as he expressed disappointment that tourism was not on the agenda of regional leaders who met over the weekend. A main criticism is the lack of an efficient and affordable intra-regional air service.
The number of intra-Caribbean visitors declined to 566,000 last year, according to statistics from the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), and Forstmayr said the powers that be need take action now. “We have heard that several heads of government at this meeting had called for reduction in travel restrictions. This is crucial if we are to return to the 1.5 million intra-Caribbean visitors that helped fill vacant rooms at our Caribbean hotels just a few years ago… An efficient and dynamic aviation policy is fundamental to the economic development of the region and this includes the tourism industry,” he said. “During these challenging times for our international tourism markets there is the very real opportunity for us to develop a strong and robust intra-Caribbean market which we had in previous years and would help to make a positive contribution to national economies.”
The CHTA added that it was “ludicrous” that visa regimes existed between CARICOM countries, stressing that nationals should be able to travel freely between Caribbean islands. “We tend to speak of integration but at the same time we stand by and let our governments erect more barriers. Do not underestimate the potential for regional travel,” the association said.
Forstmayr pointed out that although regional heads had three years ago committed to making tourism a regular topic of discussion at all their meetings, tourism had been left off the agenda for the just ended 32nd Regular Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of CARICOM in St. Kitts. The CHTA suggested that the sector has not received as much attention as it deserves.
[. . .] Forstmayr said there is still insufficient awareness and understanding of the industry’s economic contribution and how it permeates the depth and breadth of the general economy and overall fabric of Caribbean society.
Travel and tourism directly and indirectly employs more than 1.9 million people in the Caribbean, which translates into one in every nine jobs. It accounts for 12.8 percent of the Caribbean’s economic activity – more than in any other region in the world. [. . .]