Tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines - Reaching the Silver Lining by Hon. Saboto Caesar

 


Tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines - Reaching the Silver Lining

 





Hon. Saboto S. Caesar is the Minister of Tourism and Industry and Member of Parliament for the Constituency of South Central Windward.



 


 



Today, I want to speak about just how incredibly important our government thinks our tourism industry is to the general development of our multi-island nation state, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.


There has never been any doubt in my mind, not now or ever before, that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines stands out as one of the most beautiful group of islands that this earth has been blessed with. To arrive at this conclusion, I have not relied only on the many international acclamations that our destination would have received through the years, but also on the fact that any visitor to the La Soufriere volcano or sailors through the Grenadines will forever speak in the positive about their experiences.


What then do we need to do to take tourism to the next level in St. Vincent and the Grenadines? Firstly, we must adopt vigorously the approach that mainland St. Vincent must play a critical role in the tourism sector in the way forward. Through this pluralistic approach we will harness all resources in the industry, not only those in the Grenadines, but also those on mainland St. Vincent. It is only then that we will ensure the scale necessary to increase productivity in the sector.


Tourism simply will not during this important stage of our nation’s development, be seen as a second-class service sector. The statistics need very little interpretation. The fact is that our main foreign exchange income earner is the tourism industry. The reality however is that other islands in the region are providing a fertile ground for fierce competition. We therefore have no choice but to increase our levels of skills, talent and enterprise nationally, if we are to remain successful in the market place.


Historically, our political dependency on England brought with it a demand for agricultural produce from its colonies. Our islands were therefore heavily dependant on agriculture to earn valuable foreign exchange through the colonial setup. The plantation economy was in full servitude to Great Britain. During that period, with the exception of sugar, very little agro-industries have ever developed from our primary products. Hence, we have not benefitted from value added to our primary agriculture for the most part.


We have witnessed a shift away from sugar, and in recent times we have lived through several onslaughts on our banana industry from trade liberalization, hurricanes and several devastating diseases. Wherein then resides the way forward? A strategically diversified agricultural sector, geared at reducing our food import bill and addressing the critical issue of food security, must be twinned with an attempt at establishing a sustainable tourism product if we are to increase the wealth of our nation.


Let us always keep to the fore of our minds, that an increase in visitor arrival must be met with a proportionate increase in food production to feed the tourist. Let me put it this way, using the example of bananas. What will change? With an international airport let’s say the persons consuming our bananas remain constant, for sure the place of consumption will change. The actual consumption will no longer purely take place on the breakfast tables in London, High Wycombe and Birmingham by consumers in our extra-regional market. Instead, a large percentage of our bananas will now be consumed in our own supermarkets, hotels, and guest houses, locally, in Villa, Buccament and in the Grenadines by our guests.


Hence, we must address the resultant challenges which will arise, whilst at the same time, factor into our planning the many positive impacts that an increase in tourism will have on the increase in the demand for food locally. This is so since tourism although an export product, quite uniquely is consumed in the country of production.


In the coming decade, there is an unprecedented opportunity to take our tourism industry to a whole new level with the construction of the Argyle International Airport. In this period leading up to the opening of our international airport, there are many windows of opportunities that we must not allow to be closed before making the most of them. We must not allow these to slip through our grasp. So what are we going to do about it? I’ll tell you.


In this new dispensation, this government wants us to have the strongest possible tourism strategy. We think there are at least three main parts. Firstly, what government does nationally; secondly, the means by which we stimulate the private sector in tourism; and thirdly, how we make policy in other areas that will impact the tourism


industry. We must create the correct atmosphere for growth.


So that’s our goal, and in the main that is the general framework that we can use to raise our game. This is an appeal to all of us to use the tools we need to finish the job. As with so many things in development, making the most of our tourism industry is not simply about government action. It’s about what our communities and local businesses can do. Can we come together to make our country more prosperous? We know we can. Can we support new development and new enterprise to boost our tourism and make the most of our great heritage, blessed geography and stable political environment? I really believe we can.


Our Government firmly believes that we can come together in a new nationwide effort to make this coming decade the best ever for tourism in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This government stands fully behind every effort. We also appreciate that the challenge is not only for those who serve directly in the industry in as much as it is for us as a society. I am confident that together we will see exponential growth in this industry in 2011 and beyond. Our moment is now!