Grenada Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell on Tuesday said that Caribbean countries are facing a “challenge” in seeking to restart their vital tourism industry as the region comes to grips with the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Addressing a United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)-organised Regional Policy Dialogue on the theme “The Future of Tourism: What Next,” Prime Minister Mitchell told the virtual forum that if regional countries are to be “brutally honest …we will admit that we really do not know for certain what is next.
“Grenada and other countries in the region are trying to restart the tourism sector but it is proving to be quite a challenge. And as we continue to see spikes in COVID-19 cases in some countries, the emergence of new, more aggressive variants and many border closures, the uncertainty of the future becomes even more concerning.”
But he said notwithstanding the challenges, Caribbean continues to be optimistic that the tourism industry will rebound and recover.
“Our expectations in that regard must be tempered by an unwavering commitment to give priority consideration to the safety of our people. Placing safety at the pinnacle of our efforts to restart tourism will serve as an attraction in and of itself.
“A country that demonstrates good COVID-19 management protocols, along with easy and efficient entry protocols will no doubt be included on the list of preferred destinations. In fact, Grenada has already been identified on a list of six countries that potential travellers should have on their radar to visit, once they have been fully vaccinated.”
But Mitchell said that it is disappointing to note that no Caribbean country was included on the United Kingdom’s green list of safe countries approved for non-essential travel.
“This drives home the urgency for Grenada and other Caribbean countries to come together to lobby the UK for green light status, based on our relatively low case numbers and astute management of the pandemic.
“This will create a tremendous opportunity to increase the Caribbean’s global market share as many popular destinations in places such as Italy, China, Spain, and South Africa will be closed out.”
Mitchell said that positive or low-risk ratings by the United States and the UK will be good news for the tourism sector in the Caribbean as travellers from these countries will be able to visit the region without fear of punitive consequences when they return home.
He said these ratings and rankings are also likely to guide where airlines will decide to focus their marketing efforts and increase the likelihood of more traffic, resulting in more available seats and hopefully more travellers using those seats to visit our region.
“My friends, we cannot ignore the fact that travel is no longer hassle-free. Testing, quarantine requirements and COVID-19 protocols such as wearing a mask have added a layer of complexity to travel, increased costs considerably and removed the element of spontaneity, all of which stand to negatively impact tourism.
“But hope springs eternal and we anticipate that the pent-up demand created by lockdowns, will drive people to travel. Many would want to travel and the Caribbean will be a favourable destination,” Mitchell said, adding that “it is an opportune time to focus more on intra-regional travel”.
He said considerable resources are invested into attracting visitors from around the world, “but we often forget that there is a ready market in closer proximity.
“The question is how do we tap into this? What initiatives can we embark on to encourage Caribbean nationals to travel among the various islands? My friends, one such initiative would be reducing the travel tax and making the cost of airline tickets more affordable. However, this must be a collaborative effort among the islands.”
Prime Minister Mitchell said that the vision for the future of regional tourism should also include greater emphasis on heritage tourism, noting that the Caribbean has a rich heritage and there is significant potential for that history and culture to become a more visible part of the attraction of various destinations.
“Therefore, greater emphasis should be placed on developing and promoting these sites. There is also a view that community-minded travel will become more popular in the future as the pandemic has caused many people to become more aware of the global community and some may opt for more community-oriented tourism rather that the glitzy-glamourous side of the industry.”
“Placing safety at the pinnacle of our efforts to restart tourism will serve as an attraction in and of itself”— Dr Keith Mitchell, prime minister, Grenada
He said with that in mind, as the regional countries strategise on the way forward, community tourism is likely to become a national priority area for Grenada, an approach that will create more opportunities for self-employed individuals and potential growth of micro, small and medium size enterprises.
“Here in Grenada, we are confident about the future of tourism. Several developments are currently underway, which will create significant and diverse job opportunities for our people. Additionally, a recent initiative launched here in Grenada — the West Indies School of Hospitality will bring tremendous training opportunities for persons involved in the tourism sector.”
Mitchell said that the initiative, in partnership with Cornell University, also stands to benefit “our brothers and sisters across the region and will certainly lead to greater empowerment of our people.
“I want to reiterate that the future prospects look good and I strongly urge that we keep our guard up. New COVID-19 variants and vaccine hesitancy could threaten to overwhelm our system but, at the same time, there are numerous paths out of the crisis that also present golden opportunities for growth.
“As with many other things, unity of purpose is an incredible driving force and the Caribbean should therefore seek to speak with one voice in our lobbying efforts. Let us tread lightly but look positively towards a better future,” Prime Minister Mitchell told the dialogue.