“We need to look for new ways of doing old things; of putting new wine in both old and new wineskins. I say old wineskins because in reaching for what is new we must not forget ourselves, who we are and what really makes us unique as a Caribbean people.”
That’s Minister Yolande Bain-Horsford, Grenada’s Minister of Tourism & Civil Aviation, in a speech at the 2nd Meeting of the Council of Ministers of Tourism of the sub-regional grouping, the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) in Grenada. You’ll find a transcript of the minister’s speech below.
In her speech, Minister Bain-Horsford referenced the address by Prime Minister Perry Christie of the Bahamas at the opening the of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) heads of government in Barbados last week. In that speech, PM Christie made a passionate plea for his fellow leaders to pay more attention to tourism.
Minister’s Address - 2nd Meeting of Tourism Ministers of the OECS - Radisson Beach Resort, Grenada - 9th July 2015
It gives me the greatest pleasure to welcome all of you from across the region on this special occasion, the 2nd Meeting of the OECS Council of Ministers of Tourism. I welcome specially those of my colleagues who, like me, have recently assumed responsibility for the Tourism portfolio and are attending their first Council of Ministers Meeting. Welcome to Pure Grenada, the Spice of the Caribbean.
Today we meet under the theme “OECS Economic Union: Pushing the Tourism Envelope” – a theme which calls us all into action at a time when the Caribbean as a whole is facing many challenges in the Tourism sector. With rising prices, increased competition globally, shifting regional geopolitics, diminished resources overall, and a product increasingly viewed as jaded and worn and in need of regeneration, the injection of investment and innovation as it relates to product offerings is an absolute imperative.
There is indeed the need to push the envelope, here referencing not just the monetary envelope, in terms of our earnings from the industry; but also the conglomeration of goods and services that we are able to combine as our offering that will assist in distinguishing us from the rest and ensuring that we can meet and surpass the expectations of our visitors. We need to look for new ways of doing old things; of putting new wine in both old and new wineskins. I say old wineskins because in reaching for what is new we must not forget ourselves, who we are and what really makes us unique as a Caribbean people. In this case we do not expect that these skins will tear, but instead better preserve and culture the new adoptions so that they too will reflect the true Caribbean spirit, our warmth, our flamboyance, our creativity, our optimism and passion for life. These must all be part of the envelope that we offer to the rest of the world.
Within the ambit of the OECS Union, we have long recognized the need to come together and to have a common approach to our tourism development. As far back as 2011, we looked at the implementation of a common tourism policy, some areas of which remain unfulfilled, but which are still relevant and should be revisited. The overarching objectives of that policy were to achieve balanced growth and development of the tourism sector across the OECS member states; to achieve together what individually was more difficult to achieve; to progress towards a sustainable and self-sufficient tourism economy and to contribute towards a wider understanding and awareness of the value of tourism to the governments and citizenry of all the States. The achievement of these objectives remain critical and necessary, however mindful of the differing levels of progress in the respective sister States.
Allow me to remind you of some of the areas that have been identified for collaborative action:
- Investment and Product Development
- Community participation, sectoral linkages and joint procurement
- Human resource development Tourism awareness
- Research and statistics to inform planning
- Access and transportation
- Environmental and cultural sustainability, among others.
These areas are being addressed within and outside the context of tourism, but are critical for the growth of this important, mainstay of our economies. There are many challenges which can inhibit our progress, issues of accessibility, of the lack of resources to invest in the sector; the lack of awareness on the part of our nationals of the vital role this sector plays in the upkeep of our economies and the role they must play in safeguarding the industry and making it sustainable.
At a wider level, Prime Minister Christie in his address to the recently held Caricom Heads meeting, urged member states to place greater focus on Tourism, as the greatest earner of foreign exchange, for many of our islands. He cited the sector as not only a revenue earner but also the greatest solution to the problem of youth unemployment in the region, a factor we are all faced with. Thus we must look at this industry through the correct lens and give it collectively the attention that is due.
Some of these issues I know are down for discussion today and I look forward to exploring with you the solutions and the way forward to implementing those solutions, so that as a region we can tackle the challenges together. Let us indeed push the envelope – the envelope of cooperation, of insight, of pooled resources to obtain the envelope of extensive earnings that we all desire.
Coincidentally, this past month my Ministry, as part of a larger public service wide effort, has been engaged in developing a strategic plan to guide our operations over the next three years. Deliberately, many of these same issues that we as a grouping have highlighted are down for action in the coming period. We have highlighted the issues, now it is time to deal with these issues.
We have a full day ahead of exploring and examining together the path for tourism development in the OECS. We will look both at the progress we have made and at our shortcomings. I want to urge that wherever we identify a problem, that we should also seek consensus on a solution. This is a call for action, a call to make this 2nd meeting of OECS Ministers of Tourism a meaningful exercise, a turning point for us, so that we will later be able to look back and say the work really started here, the momentum changes really began with this meeting. We are well known in the Caribbean for meeting, even for planning, but less so for the execution of those plans.
Let us recommit ourselves today to doing more than deliberating; to thinking through the solutions and the plans for action and to striving diligently for the realization of all the goals we may set today. I want to be part of the action, the “making a difference” team, the bringing together of our ideas, our efforts and our resources towards making the OECS a model of integration for the greater Caribbean and beyond--on how a unified approach to development is truly the answer for our islands.
Again, I take this opportunity to welcome you and to say that I expect your brief stay here will be a Purely memorable one and that you will return whenever you feel the need to rejuvenate and to reenergize in the pure spice of the Caribbean. I wish us all a successful meeting.