‘Good Evening Ministers, Commissioners and Directors of Tourism, Youth Delegates, Members of the Media, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen …

Bonsoir mes amies!

On behalf of the member countries of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, I would like to thank the French Department of Martinique for hosting the 2013 State of the Industry Conference, one of the most important business meetings on the region’s tourism calendar.

Martinique must be commended for its vision, dedication and enthusiasm to ensuring that tourism continues to gain the recognition it deserves in this region.

Merci beaucoup Commissioner Karine Roy-Camille, Muriel Wiltord, and Team La Martinique.

As we examine the theme, “Perfecting the Experience, Delivering Authenticity”, we look forward to productive sessions, but we also look forward to experiencing the special uniqueness of this destination.

Our region is diverse – with the sounds of French, Spanish, English and Dutch mixed with our many dialects. It is therefore heartwarming to attend this conference in a destination which provides such a wonderful display of the brilliant diversity of a part of the world many of us here call home.

Thank you to the numerous delegates and speakers who have travelled far and wide to get to Martinique for our annual meeting.

Again, the conference features exciting, dynamic world class presenters with a wealth of knowledge and experience who will help us focus on key challenges, opportunities and solutions for our region’s key industry. Against the landscape of our last conference in St. Kitts I know we will leave here having enhanced our skills.

In keeping with our theme, the question we must all ask ourselves is how can we preserve that which is authentically Caribbean while remaining relevant, competitive and sustainable.

As your chairman for the past year, I can only describe my experience as …… “baptism by fire”.

We have faced many challenges – from slow growth, unpredictable airlift and onerous taxation – both external and internal – which impacts the cost of vacations to our region. And we have also lacked the political will to move our regional marketing program along fast enough to ensure we remain competitive as the most sought-after warm weather destination.

A vibrant tourism sector requires a firm, yet flexible and astute partnership between the public and private sectors.

Many of our governments have invested significant resources into improving our public infrastructure, and we now need the continued help of our private sector partners to upgrade and enhance our tourism product which is critical to maintaining our competitive position in the global marketplace. We also need your marketing resources to help drive our tourism offerings – this can be either in-cash or in-kind contributions.

Our competitors may not be able to match our destinations’ natural beauty, but many of them have the resources and the sheer will to make reaching our goals even more difficult.

“One Sea, One Voice, One Caribbean” cannot be just a feel good slogan or a tagline that we embrace when we meet a few times a year but it must be the strategic marketing reality of our region if we are to survive the aggressive marketing efforts of major destinations around the world.

While the Caribbean is blessed by a bounty of natural resources, we are in no short supply of creativity, energy, vision and enthusiasm.

Yet, I remain concerned.

Why?

Because as a region we are great debators … we’re big on lyrics … but slow on implementation.

In fact, Brand USA is leaps ahead of us, promoting a concept we initiated in the Caribbean. Yes, they implemented a concept we have been discussing for more than a decade.

Ladies and gentlemen, we know this concept works. Brand USA has the data that shows the increased travel to the US since the program’s implementation. And we have the proof, that when we’ve implemented a cohesive marketing program our visitor arrivals have increased. Unfortunately, we seem only to have the will to truly work together when there is a crisis.

Folks, it’s time to take the blinders off. It time to wake up to today’s realities. It’s time to seize the moment.

Tourism remains our primary economic earner in the Caribbean, period.

And I talk not just about jobs and incomes earned from hotels and resorts, but the obvious linkages that we don’t talk about – to agriculture, construction, health, education and the financial services sector.

The global market is growing so rapidly that if we fall behind it is going to be so much more difficult and much more expensive, to catch up.

To our member governments I ask of you to honor your commitments on time. This delay makes it more challenging to keep those members who have honored their membership and marketing commitment to remain fully engaged.

However, today’s Council of Ministers and Commissioners meeting makes me optimistic since we have voted on a policy to achieve this goal.

It is time for all of us, both public and private sectors, to walk the talk of product development, and of course, regional marketing.

We are not asking for charity – support for regional marketing is a solid investment in the economic development of our countries.

Vincent Vanderpool-Wallace’s insight into the world’s largest and fastest growing industry is recognized internationally so we are very motivated by his commitment to help in this journey in his capacity as a consultant to the Caribbean Tourism Development Company, a marketing and business development entity which is jointly owned by the Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.

Colleagues and friends, we cannot afford to get together a few times a year to have a feel good session on regional issues and return home only to forget the benefits of regional branding of the Caribbean a few days later.

We have a 60-year history. What will be said of us in the next 60 years? Are we prepared to play hard or go home?

Change isn’t just coming, it’s all around us – have we changed? Do we run off to the next event without the end goal in mind or are we playing to win? … because the rest of the world is.

I think if we get pumped, not just for pumped sake, but with a desire for action then our investment of time and money will yield a significant ROI from being here this week

I could stand here and give lip service about tourism – and have everyone leave this beautiful venue feeling warm and cozy.

But the fact is, it’s time to move beyond the talk, and into serious action. It’s time to get so UNCOMFORTABLE that we are forced to address the challenges of the most tourism dependent region in the world.

Ladies and gentleman (PAUSE) …. it is sink or swim for the Caribbean. And the choice is in our hands.

There are 14 Caribbean students who will present at the youth forum here this week – they and millions more around the region are depending on us to act after this week.

Again, I would like to thank you for being here and to our hosts here in Martinique for their most gracious hospitality.

Merci beaucoup.

The author is chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

Presented at the formal opening ceremony of the just-concluded 2013 State of the Industry Conference.

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