Bridgetown – 12 May, 2021: “Back is the wrong way to go!” This was one of the overarching sentiments at The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean High-level Regional Dialogue, one of the main activities of the USD 1.5 M “Future-Tourism (FUT-Tourism): Rethinking Tourism and MSMEs in times of COVID-19” Project. The panel of regional Prime Ministers, leaders and industry experts covered various thematic areas at the virtual session which provided a platform for diverse actors within the tourism sector to engage in catalytic conversations on the future of tourism and the impact of COVID-19.
The first session, focused on the topic of “The Future of Tourism, What is Next? - What value can the new trends in tourism add to the economic recovery of the Eastern Caribbean?” allowed featured speakers to share their views on three main thematics areas before an open discussion with the public. The panel consisted of Dr. the Honourable Keith Mitchell, Prime Minister of Grenada, The Honourable Roosevelt Skerrit, Prime Minister of Dominica, Luis Felipe López-Calva, UN Assistant Secretary-General and UNDP Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, Marla Dukharan, Caribbean Economist, Sandra Carvão, Chief, Market Intelligence and Competitiveness at World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and Flávia Matos, Director of Public Policy for Latin America at AirBNB.
The key points, issues and opportunities raised highlighted that while the pandemic destroyed some markets, new trends are shifting consumer demand and creating new opportunities for Caribbean MSMEs, as well as the Caribbean’s ability to leverage digital and technological innovation among other topics. Within the discussion, The Honourable Prime Minister Mitchell noted that while there was a heavy emphasis on attracting international visitors, the region should also be viewed as a source market. "We forget that there is a ready market in the Caribbean" he stated adding that reduced taxes on tickets could motivate intra-regional travel but that the entire Caribbean must be on board. His Dominican counterpart, The Hounourable Prime Minister Skerrit, added that joint marketing is an area that must be reconsidered once more and, speaking to digital transformation, further added that “a harmonized system for travelers and businesses would increase demand for automation which would enable faster adoption of contact-less technology among others”. This public commitment to greater collaboration among Caribbean islands was applauded by the UN-WTO and the international company AIRBNB.
The discussions emphasized the need to involve Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises MSMEs in offering diverse but authentic experiences among the dialogue topics of collaboration, sustainability, digital transformation and others discusses by the panel. Speaking to the role of regional collaboration and dialogue as the way forward for actionable change, Luis Felipe López-Calva, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Assistant Administrator and Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, noted, “that the challenge ahead is to rethink the future of tourism– the pandemic provides a turning point, to change the paradigm to more sustainable and diverse forms of tourism built on maximizing the blue, green and orange economies.”
As exogenous threats like COVID-19 and the current volcanic eruption in St. Vincent and the Grenadines are impacting the region, it is vital that developmental efforts persist in order to reinforce the need for regional resilience and building forward better. As the Caribbean continues to seek solutions to build resilience and livelihoods for traditionally vulnerable groups, UNDP Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean, in partnership with governments and stakeholders, remains dedicated to the advancement of inclusive and sustainable development throughout the region and building resilient communities that can withstand shocks and crises through targeted projects and programmes.
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