This year’s State of the Tourism Industry Conference (SOTIC) comes at a trying time for Caribbean tourism.
Never in the history of the planning this event have situations, circumstances and conditions in our member destinations, and by extension, the Caribbean, changed so dramatically, so drastically, and so disturbingly in such a short space of time.
When planning began for SOTIC 2017, our realities were far different. None of us ever imagined that two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, would have had such a far-reaching and radical impact on our lives.
I wish to take this opportunity to express, on behalf of the entire CTO family, heartfelt condolences to the Governments and peoples of the countries impacted by those horrendous storms over the tragic loss of life and property, as well as the destruction of infrastructure.
The planning of SOTC began against the background of our challenge to grow our share of the world tourism market, which has held steady at 2.4 per cent despite record arrivals to the Caribbean.
Our emphasis was on how to keep pace with the latest trends and developments that make travel and tourism attractive, yet competitive. How technologies such as virtual reality, artificial intelligence and 360 influence travel; how we could develop a tourism product and experiences that are so outstanding that visitors take away much more than what they expected and immerse in experiences that they can get nowhere else; how, in essence, we could supercharge the Caribbean brand and make the region more appealing to the new explorer.
However, the monstrous category five hurricanes that so mercilessly battered some of our members last month have added new perspectives to our situation.
Yes, the old challenges remain and must be addressed at this conference and well after this gathering is over. However, we must also address the immediate concerns of recovering and rebuilding after the storms.
The countries that were directly impacted by the tempests are at various stages on the road to recovery, by the road remains a long and tiring one. For some, it will be a long while before normality is restored, before they are in a position to welcome visitors again in the numbers they were used to.
However, our resilience, commitment and determination will drive us to rebuild better, stronger and more sustainably.
We see this resilience on display in Anguilla, Barbuda, the British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Puerto Rico, and the United States Virgin Islands, where, despite broken buildings and shattered lives, Irma and Maria could not break the spirits of the people who are expending every little bit of sweat and blood, and sometimes tears, to get back up as soon as possible.
We see the spirt of Caribbean togetherness at play in the generous response of those that were not affected, and those not so badly impacted, as they give all they can to help our brothers and sisters rise from the devastation.
At SOTIC, we have added a special Recover and Rebuild session to the programme, during which delegates will hear from leading experts in disaster preparedness and mitigation, recovery, funding, airport development and maintenance, airlines, cruise lines, telecommunications and media, as well as representatives of the hotel sector and member countries that have experienced – and recovered from – major catastrophes.
Recover & Rebuild will focus on the economic cost of the disasters, including the potential impact on gross domestic product, employment, the cost to rebuild and the recovery time.
Key recommendations emerging from the session on Thursday morning will form part of a comprehensive document which we believe will have industry-wide international significance. And we expect these recommendations will help inform our future strategies.
I wish to thank the Government of Grenada for sticking with us and continuing to work hard at planning an exceptional experience for visiting delegates, at a time when our focus was on the storms and how much they have hurt our member countries.
The welcome here was exceptional and first impression suggests we are in for a truly extraordinary stay here.
Thank you too, to the CTO staff, who worked tirelessly and defied the odds to bring this conference to fruition. You have certainly earned your keep.
Most of all, thanks to everyone of you, especially the delegates from the worst affected countries, and the youth congress participants, for being here. Your presence is testimony to your unselfish commitment to Caribbean tourism.
These are indeed trying times. However, Pure Grenada is the spice of life, therefore I implore you to take some time to savour it. The impression will be lasting.
I thank you.