Address By Hon. Philip J. Pierre
Minister For Commerce, Tourism And Consumer Affairs,
At The Opening Of Caribbean Media Exchange (CMEX)
Thursday, June 24, 2004.
On behalf of the Government and people of Saint Lucia, I extend a warm, friendly St. Lucian welcome to all participants of CMEX – the sixth Caribbean Media Exchange on Sustainable Tourism.
I wish to applaud the organizers and particularly local promoters Mrs. Berthia Parle and Mr Allen Chastanet for facilitating this annual dialogue between media practitioners and key players in Caribbean tourism. Through this worthwhile initiative, you are promoting a vital strategic partnership which provides a sound pillar for the continued success of Caribbean tourism.
Considering the fundamental reconfiguration of the global economy in the past decade, Caribbean economies are at the crossroads in their development from agriculture to services. Our countries need to focus their energies on achieving increasing success for tourism, the only industry which has been proven to be remarkably resilient in the prevailing global climate. Testimony of this resilience is the recovery of our industry after the 9.11 disaster.
A cursory glance at St. Lucia’s economic landscape will show that our stay-over tourism performance for the fiscal year 2003 surpassed our best year which was 2000. Real growth, as measured by the value added in the hotel and restaurant sub-sectors, was 16.6% in 2003. Tourism’s direct contribution to GDP was 16.9%. Visitor expenditure increased to $761.6 million in 2003 from $567.3 million in 2002 and accounted for an estimated 70% of earnings of exports of goods and services.
It is clear that tourism is St. Lucia’s leading industry and a successful, sustainable tourism industry is imperative for the region’s future. It is a fact that Caribbean economies have gone through a fundamental transition in which tourism has emerged as the only globally competitive industry.
We have no alternative, certainly not in the foreseeable future, but to nurture and safeguard this vital industry. At the policy level, our overriding objective must be to create the enabling environment for tourism to continue on a path of sustainable development and at the same time, work in partnership to generate acceptability and goodwill for the industry by ensuring there is a trickle down of the benefits that can be accrued from the tourism industry.
It is pointless telling the average citizen that tourism is his or her business if they are not seeing real benefits. The challenge, therefore, is to convert more and more of our citizens from tourism onlookers to tourism partners. If we can effectively demonstrate how tourism is improving the quality of life of the average man and woman, I have little doubt we will win their commitment for the continued success of the industry.
Here in St Lucia, that has been a powerful lesson from our acclaimed Nature Heritage Tourism Programme. Born of a desire by this Government to achieve wider distribution of tourism benefits, the Heritage Tourism Programme is breathing new life in several rural communities previously cut off from mainstream tourism activity. The emphasis has been on using local resources and involving residents to develop community-based tourism products.
Some of you, no doubt, will go to Anse-la-Raye tomorrow night for Seafood Friday. This three-year-old project is one of the success stories of heritage tourism. Using the village’s traditional fishing industry as the basis of a new commercial activity, Seafood Friday has empowered several Anse-la-Raye families by opening up a weekly source of income. There are other Heritage attractions like Fond D'Or, Latille Gardens-Falls or even the Grande Anse Turtle watch which is creating employment for 17 young persons from a rural community.
Sustainable tourism requires all tourism interests to take a holistic view of the product and the environment in which it operates.
The media can play a critical role in promoting sustainable Caribbean tourism. CMEX, indeed, is premised on such a recognition. Tourism is an industry driven by perception which, in today’s world, is heavily influenced by media coverage. The media, therefore, can effectively make or break a destination.
When a visitor chooses to vacation in the Caribbean, he or she does so, largely on the basis of the image and perception of the region. A good image is a destination’s most valuable asset. It acts as a powerful magnet to visitors. On the other hand, a negative image acts as a deterrent.
Except for the most adventurous, tourists are not inclined to visit places they perceive as unsafe. Living as we are in the Information Age, it is predominantly the media that shapes the perceptions which people have of other people, products and places. As a result, the media wields immense influence and power over the choices people make at least until the actual experience when the visitors can judge for themselves.
Sustainable Caribbean tourism needs the support of an enlightened and understanding media. A media committed to practicing a journalism of sensitivity and caution. A media ever mindful that the livelihood of thousands of Caribbean people can be easily jeopardized by a single act of recklessness.
In other words, the exercise of power and influence by the media must be accompanied by a consciousness of a deep social responsibility. I am not asking the media to compromise its traditional watchdog role or even to become a public relations machine for tourism.
What tourism partners would like to see from the media, especially when reporting issues which could impact negatively on the industry, is accurate, responsible and balanced coverage which puts the particular issue in context. Take the issue of crime, a global problem which is prevalent in most countries.
Regrettably, crime is often reported by the Caribbean media in a manner which conveys a false impression that our societies are overrun by criminals. The media must help our visitors recognize that while the Caribbean conjures up the image of paradise, the region is not without its problems. Visitors should be urged therefore to take the same precautions as they would in other parts of the world.
There is a tendency, by some parties, to knock the media generally for negative press coverage. I accept that the media reports the writer’s version of an incident and I concede that the media are not always entirely at fault. Media practitioners must accept responsibility for the information they communicate and I believe a journalism of sensitivity and caution can make a real difference.
I wish to emphasize that it takes years of painstaking effort and money to build up a country’s reputation. Regrettably, that reputation is fragile and can be destroyed in a matter of seconds.
By performing its traditional watchdog role in the context of a journalism of sensitivity and caution, the media can make a significant contribution to the success of Caribbean tourism. The media can keep tourism decision-makers on their toes, ensure that high standards are maintained, that benefits accrue to the population, our environment is preserved, our cultural heritage and customs respected and ensure that our visitors leave with a balanced image of the region following a delightful experience.
I hope you will reflect on these suggestions over the next few days. I wish you a productive conference and an enjoyable stay in our simply beautiful island.
© 2012 CompanyLongName. All rights reserved.
Read our privacy guidelines.