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We cannot just stand still: Jamaica Tourism to steer UNWTO Disaster Recovery Program for Caribbean

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Jamaica Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett, has been appointed as the coordinator of the United Nations World Tourism Organization’s (UNWTO) newly-formed Disaster Recovery Working Group for the Affected States in the Caribbean.

The program was formed to meet the needs of member states that have been recently impacted by powerful natural disasters such as hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes.

Speaking at a special meeting of the newly convened recovery program, Secretary General of the UNWTO, Taleb Rifai said, “We cannot just stand still – it is not right. I really want to make a difference. I hope that we can leave this place with lines of action we can pursue. So, my suggestion is to formalize the group. If Minister Bartlett is okay with this, he can be in charge of getting you together.”

Virtual weekly meetings were proposed for members from countries such as USA, Spain, Barbados, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Haiti, Mexico, and France – who were all in attendance.

Heads of delegations provided an update on the state of their countries and expressed gratitude for this positive showing of solidarity, which will allow them to benefit from an increased pooling of resources.

“I think that the next step would be for us to connect with Caribbean Tourism Organization and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association and perhaps to do a technical visit from the UNWTO. So we three can get together to figure out the hard action we can take as we prepare for the November meeting, which will then outline a full plan of action,” said Minister Bartlett.

Secretary General Rifai lamented that he believes it is very “difficult for tourism infrastructure and stakeholders to make a difference, as the initial impact of any disaster is human relief and other activities that are not part of what we can do best.”

He did however emphasize, that help can be offered from the group in three ways.

“Firstly, we should encourage anything possible to make the recovery speedy. Secondly, communication is absolutely crucial and important. We should also concentrate on job loss and businesses lost. I think that’s as much as we can do because realistically speaking we’re not the Red Cross, we are not the International Food Program which is what people need at this time.

“What we can do is utilize our tourism infrastructure. For example, many of your destinations are visited by cruise ships; this is the time that we need them to pay their dues to these islands,” he explained.

The ‘UNWTO, Government of Jamaica and World Bank Group Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism’, scheduled for November 27-29, 2017, was also highlighted as the ideal platform to host these discussions publicly, as well as provide an update on the status of the working group.

Mr. Rifai, however, shared that much work has to be done before the conference and offered to share a fulsome report with all heads of UN bodies, as they have access to resources to which the UNWTO is not privy.

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Editor in chief is Linda Hohnholz.