This first in-person tourism ministerial meeting since the pandemic focused in the main on:
Intra-regional Travel and Transportation
11th EDF Tourism Enhancement Programme
OECS Tourism Marketing
Climate Action in Tourism
The 7th Meeting was preceded by a live Opening Ceremony. Welcome remarks were delivered by Hon. Reginald Austrie, Senior Minister and Parliamentary Representative Cottage Constituency, who welcomed the Ministers and other tourism officials to Dominica, acknowledging the importance of tourism.
In his remarks OECS Director General, Dr. Didacus Jules, started by expressing thanks and appreciation to the outgoing Chairman Hon. Charles Fernandez, Minister for Tourism and Investment, Antigua and Barbuda for his Chairmanship through the exceeding difficult period of the pandemic, chairing several special Ministerial meetings and joint tourism and health meetings, "even whilst battling his own national priorities."
Dr. Jules thanked the host member, the Commonwealth of Dominica, for its hospitality as the enthusiastic venue for the first in-person OECS tourism ministerial meeting since the pandemic; and applauded this demonstration of the strong commitment by the Incoming Chair Hon. Denise Charles, Minister for Tourism, International Transport, and Maritime Initiatives, to intra-regional travel and the re-start of events. Dr. Jules shared the new OECS Strategic Plan showing how all the strategic pillars were intrinsically linked to tourism. Dr. Jules noted that the OECS had taken a more strategic approach to collaboration across sectors. He ended by challenging Ministers with the
Outgoing Chairman Hon. Charles Fernandez, Minister for Tourism and Investment, Antigua and Barbuda emphasized the importance of sustainable tourism. He noted that during his tenure there was one single, critical focus to ensure safety protocols and get the tourism industry back up and running. Minister Fernandez expressed his gratitude that OECS Tourism Ministers saw the benefit of coming together during the trying times of the pandemic and further expressed his appreciation to CARPHA and all health workers across the OECS.
Incoming Chair Hon. Denise Charles, Minister for Tourism, International Transport and Maritime Initiatives, was honored and excited to welcome attendees to Dominica, the Nature Island and the number 1 ranked Best Island in the Caribbean according to Travel and Leisure's 2022 ranking. Minister Charles congratulated the new Tourism Ministers and emphasized the unity and support for each other within the OECS. She also highlighted the importance of tourism to the economies in the region, quoting ECCB data, she noted that the OECS region saw approximately 5 million visitors, who injected an estimated $7 billion into the economic union in 2019, the best year on record, however, this was a small slice of the wider Caribbean pie.
She proffered the need to continue to support Community-based Tourism, Carnivals, and Festivals, and more focus attention on OECS regional packages and joint marketing. Related to this Minister Charles highlighted the importance of intra-regional travel. Of critical concern and priority for the new Chair is that of Hospitality Training.
"I am aware that a lot of work has gone into this at the regional level, but it is my hope to bring this back on the table for serious consideration and review of previous recommendations. As we make investments into infrastructure and processes, the skillsets of our people need to be enhanced and fully utilized."
Hon. Ian Douglas, Minister for Trade, Commerce, Entrepreneurship, Innovation, Business, and Export Development representing the Prime Minister also added his words of welcome from the host country. Minister Douglas commended his colleague Hon. Denise Charles for all the programmes launched during the pandemic and taking the opportunity to rebrand Dominica which has begun to pay off already. He believes that through Hon. Charles' leadership and enthusiasm Dominica will make a meaningful contribution to regional tourism development.
1. Intra-regional Travel and Transportation
The Council of Ministers received a presentation from the OECS Commission on enhancing the OECS maritime transportation sector and measures towards improving air transport connectivity.
The meeting noted that connectivity is a major issue impacting intra-regional travel and transportation and that there are challenges that exist both in maritime and aviation. Noting that Intra-regional travel is of critical importance to a full tourism recovery, the OECS Council of Ministers issued a separate statement on this matter.
2. 11th EDF RIGHT Tourism Enhancement Programme
The Council of Ministers noted the progress of the Tourism component of the 11th EDF OECS Regional Integration through Growth Harmonisation and Technology (RIGHT) Programme and endorsed the interventions under the Community-based Tourism, Historic/Heritage Tourism and Niche Tourism Marketing, recognizing the importance of diversifying and enhancing the tourism product across OECS Member States, in support of the development of a more sustainable and inclusive tourism industry in keeping with the OECS tourism mandate.
3. OECS Joint Marketing
The Council of Ministers reiterated the value of Joint Marketing and would like to move forward with this as a matter of priority. The meeting mandated the OECS Commission to set up a Tourism Marketing Task Force, comprising of representatives of Member States as identified by the Minister for Tourism, preferably Tourism Authorities/Tourist Boards, to develop a joint marketing plan for the OECS.
4. Climate Action in Tourism
The OECS Council of Ministers recognizing the significance of Climate Action in Tourism, ratified the signing of the Glasgow Declaration on Climate Action in Tourism that had been supported by Member States last year via round robin. The Glasgow Declaration's objective is to raise the climate ambition of tourism stakeholders and secure strong actions to support the global commitment to have emissions by 2030 and reach Net Zero as soon as possible before 2050.
The Council of Ministers noted the OECS proposed approach in fulfilment of the obligations under the Glasgow Declaration and key collaborators based on existing relations. The meeting further mandated the OECS to align its efforts for tourism with the Ministries/Departments of Environment taking the lead on Climate Action in most Member States.
5. Hospitality Training
The Council of Ministers raised capacity development and hospitality training as a critical need in some of the Member States.
The meeting requested an update from the OECS Commission on the Eastern Caribbean Institute of Tourism (ECIT) and lamented the slow pace of the movement of the ECIT Board of Directors on the endorsement and implementation of recommendations of the ECIT Working Group facilitated by the OECS Commission towards the full operationalization of ECIT.
The following Ministers of Tourism were in attendance:
Chair OECS Council of Ministers: Tourism and Minister for Tourism, International Transport and Maritime Initiatives, Commonwealth of Dominica, Hon. Denise Charles
Minister for Tourism and Investment, Antigua & Barbuda, Hon. Charles Fernandez
Minister for Tourism, Investment, Creative Industries, Culture and Information, Saint Lucia, Hon. Ernest Hilaire
Minister for Tourism, Civil Aviation, Sustainable Development and Culture, St. Vincent & the Grenadines, Hon. Carlos James (virtually)
Minister for Infrastructure and Tourism, Anguilla, Hon. Haydn Hughes
The following persons were also in attendance:
Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, International Transport and Maritime Initiatives, Commonwealth of Dominica, Mrs. Chekira Lockart-Hypolite
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Antigua & Barbuda, Mr. Walter Christopher
Political Officer, Office of the Premier BVI, Ms. Xyrah Wheatley
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Dominica, Ms. Lisa Valmond
Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism Saint Lucia, Ms. Donalyn Vittae
Director General of the OECS, Dr. Didacus Jules (virtually)
OECS Interim Head of Economic Development, Mr. Kevin Hope
Senior Technical Specialist Tourism, Mrs. Maria Fowell
Senior Technical Specialist Agriculture, Mr. Lench Fevrier
EARID Programme Assistant, Mrs. Natasha Deterville-Moise
Staff of the Ministry of Tourism Dominica