As part of his speech delivered at the opening of the 36th annual CARICOM Heads of Government Summit in Barbados on Thursday, July 2, 2015, Bahama’s Prime Minister Perry Christie spoke on the state of Caribbean tourism.
Long after I will have ended my stint in the Chair, The Bahamas will continue its responsibility for the CARICOM Tourism desk and I wish to pledge to Members that I intend to carry on my time as head of that Desk with as much vigour as I intend to see our tourism responsibilities carried out in the Bahamas through my Minister. That vigour will reflect my strong belief that it is through tourism growth and development that we have a collective opportunity to begin to address our problem of youth unemployment most rapidly.
I know that for some, tourism may be redolent of a part of our history that we would want to keep barricaded. For most of our countries, tourism is the largest earner of foreign exchange. For most of our countries, tourism is the largest employer. For all of our countries tourism absorbs the broadest range of skills of any economic sector. For all of our countries, tourism is the one sector for which there is no such thing as a jobless recovery. The very nature of tourism requires more people to be hired with increasing number of visitors. If unemployment especially youth unemployment is the scourge of our times, there appears to be no better economic sector for us to embrace in leading us closer to the promises that we have made to our lands.
I come to this view not only because of the intrinsic benefits that tourism delivers. I also come to this view because I have become convinced that when we look at the world today and at the various global trading blocs that have been formed and when we examine the various initiatives being pursued by CARICOM, it seems to me that the one natural bloc from which our CARICOM nations have much to gain is the God given bloc accorded us by having within the Caribbean the most salubrious conditions for existence on our planet.
I am convinced that tourism, the largest part of our collective economies and, in most cases, the largest part of our individual economies deserves much more attention at our regional meetings. Further, I am persuaded that tourism development and all that it entails is the fastest path to reducing unemployment in our region and the fastest path to reducing the debt burdens that terrifies upcoming generations. We are supposed to make each generation better. I fear that we are on the brink of leaving the next generation with a much greater burden to carry if we don’t begin to focus on ways to make our natural strengths stronger.
I know about and respect the powerful importance of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) to which our Ministers of Tourism belong. But it has occurred to me that unless CARICOM, that Caribbean body with the largest gathering of Government Heads of the Caribbean, signals to CTO that tourism is very important to our collective good, they will take their cues from the rarity of discussions about tourism at our CARICOM meetings as the indicator of our true beliefs.
My views are further prompted by what we see happening with the Cuban embargo and the United States. You will recall that it was CARICOM that spoke longest and loudest about the need for that embargo to be removed. In fact, not long after our most recent meeting as a body in Cuba, a meeting that I had the privilege to Chair, the announcement of intent was made by President Obama.
Mr Chairman, I have to tell you that after reading the Paper produced by the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association on the likely impact on Caribbean tourism of the reopening of Cuba to travel for United States citizens, I hear their appeal for us to act as a group to take full advantage of the opportunity to our collective benefit. In their recommendation to establish a Caribbean Basin Tourism Initiative, I hear their appeal for CARICOM to act in a more concerted manner. The Caribbean Basin Tourism Initiative promises that our citizens can receive benefits from our collective action that we might not be able to achieve for them as individual nations.
We need to take action to achieve the reciprocal reduction of taxes on airline tickets between the United States and Canada. The present high taxes have the effect of reducing travel rather than increasing it.
I am not suggesting for one moment that we should remove all taxes from airline tickets immediately and invite the United States, Europe and South American countries to do the same. What I am asking is that we examine the likely effects of such a move on employment, on total spending and on tax collection. I do know that a recent PriceWaterhouseCoopers report on the effects of the UK imposed APD on airline tickets has been negative for the UK in terms of jobs and tax collection. While we prefer to believe that our lobbying efforts had some effect, it is clear that some of the adjustments that the UK made to APD is a result of discovering that that ticket tax was counterproductive.
With taxes on airline tickets approaching 65% of the total ticket prices in some cases in the Caribbean, there is an argument to be made that the social and economic benefits to be derived from increased volumes of visitors exceed the taxes removed.
So Mr Chairman, this proposed Caribbean Tourism Initiative deserves some closer examination for the benefit of all CARICOM communities. In line with the authors of the document, the world most tourism dependent region, the Caribbean, should also be seen to be the most tourism competent. We must go further in addressing our air transportation rules, our shipping rules, our regional marketing rules, training and development, etc.
I firmly believe that this could be the beginning of some significant steps in the direction of making things better in the Bahamas and better in the Caribbean.