Tourism is by any measure the lead economic sector in the OECS, contributing as much as 85 percent and 94 percent to GDP and employment respectively. The year 2016, has been distinguished as one of the most promising for the Tourism sector, for the past decade. Nearly 29 million tourists visited the Caribbean in 2015, a 7.2 percent increase over the previous year while tourism hotspots elsewhere in the world experienced an increase of just 4.4%. Moreover, tourists have increased their spending, with visitors spending an estimated $30 billion in 2015, a 4.2 percent rise over the $28.8 billion spent in 2014. Several factors including increased airlift capacity, higher year-round levels of occupancy, lower airfares in cases where airlines have passed on the savings from fuel prices, the recovering economies of Europe and North America, and the rebounding consumer confidence, all resulted in more persons not only travelling but spending more.
In the case of the Eastern Caribbean Currency Union (ECCU), statistics compiled by the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank (ECCB) reveal that the hotels and restaurants sector, recorded an estimated expansion of 2.5 per cent in value added in 2015. On an individual country basis, all countries, with the exception of Dominica (due to the devastating effects of tropical storm Erika), recorded increased value added in the hotels and restaurants sector in 2015. The improvement in the performance of the tourism industry was supported by an increase of 2.2 percent in the number of stay-over visitors. All OECS territories recorded increases in stay-over visitor arrivals, ranging from 0.5 per cent in Antigua and Barbuda to 6.6 percent in St Vincent and the Grenadines. The exception was Dominica, which registered a decline of 3.0 percent.
The theme for World Tourism Day 2016 – “Tourism for All – promoting universal accessibility” resonates with the tenets of the OECS Common Tourism Policy developed in partial fulfilment of operationalising the OECS Economic Union. Ever since the Revised Treaty of Basseterre came into effect in January of 2011, great strides have occurred in respect of operationalising the OECS Economic Union, especially in Tourism where the OECS has moved reasonably swiftly to fulfill the obligations articulated in the Protocol of Eastern Caribbean Economic Union,
Much of the OECS Tourism Policy has been implemented, thanks to funding support extended by the European Union. In keeping with this year’s World Tourism Day theme, significant emphasis has been and continues to be placed on facilitating ease of travel, with a view to making travel more accessible intra-regionally. The OECS Tourism Policy highlights Regional Facilitation as a priority area to enhance the performance of tourism in the OECS. The Policy states that “enabling the free movement of people within the region is perhaps the single greatest change required to improve the region’s economic competitiveness”. The OECS Commission’s thrust towards facilitating ease of travel is predicated on three pillars: Liberalisation of Air Transport; Travel Facilitation; and Border Management. Whilst the importance of welcoming visitors from outside is widely-acknowledged, the OECS is seeking to also promote and increase travel by OECS residents in keeping with the theme: “tourism for all”.
Relevant to this year’s World Tourism Day theme is also our focus on increasing local community participation in Tourism. As such, the OECS Tourism Unit developed a Community-based Tourism programme in 2013 which has engaged over 300 local community residents in Member States, mostly women. The community-based tourism programme seeks to: increase local community participation and involvement in tourism; increase direct benefits derived by local community residents from the tourism sector – promoting, ‘tourism for all’.
As we celebrate World Tourism Day 2016, I kindly encourage all OECS nationals to take some time to reflect on our respective roles and responsibilities (actual and potential) in optimising the tremendous potential of tourism to drive sustainable growth and development in our region; and ultimately establish a more inclusive OECS tourism industry. Let us make tourism everybody’s business. Tourism is for all – me, you, everybody.
Dr. Lorraine Nicholas
OECS Tourism Specialist