Excerpts from Remarks by
OECS Director General Dr. Len Ishmael
at Compass Brunch, Bequia, 21 April 2011
Dear friends and members of the yachting community: welcome, especially to those of you who hail from outside these shores. Your visit to Bequia and this year's Easter regatta coincides with one of the most exhilarating of times in the historical evolution of this grouping of nine micro states who collectively comprise the OECS, as they continue on a journey along which no other Small Island Developing States have gone before.
By pooling their financial and human resources they have built an impressive array of institutional architecture at the regional level providing services in common, in an attempt to derive economies of scale. They share a single currency, a common judiciary, are served by a common authority for civil aviation and telecommunications, have joint diplomatic missions in different parts of the world, and have established a Secretariat as part of the executive to represent the interests of Member States regionally and internationally.
On January 21st 2011, the Revised Treaty of Basseterre Establishing the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Economic Union came into effect and in so doing took the model of integration of these nine countries to an entirely new level. Forming a single economic and maritime space has implications for how we do business within that space, how we manage joint resources and shared stocks, and of course over time, how the yachting sector will be managed and operate within that space.
Despite the excitement associated with the creation of the Economic Union, the mandate to fashion a common Tourism policy comes at a rather turbulent time in regional economic fortunes - but perhaps this very turbulence is what is required to provide the impetus to ensure that the way forward is charted in terms that are practical and designed to move from rhetoric to action.
The OECS Secretariat has been working towards fulfilling a series of mandates from the OECS Council of Tourism Ministers, which seeks to synchronize tourism development activities in the region. Given the audience at this morning's Brunch, I will focus my remarks on just one of the tourism niche areas in which the OECS has a demonstrated competitive advantage - that of yachting.
In terms of average daily expenditure per visitor, even in the face of far smaller numbers, yachting continues to outperform the cruise sector in many OECS destinations. The relative economic advantages of yachting are becoming even more apparent with the growth of the mega-yachting sub-sector in the region - yet the yachting sector remains one whose huge potential is still largely untapped even though the OECS lies at the very heart of the best sailing waters in the Caribbean, if not the world.
The OECS Council of Tourism Ministers has agreed on a number of strategic interventions that need to be embraced as part of the policy-making process, including facilitating the adoption of a common policy and approach to the clearance of vessels into and out of OECS sailing waters in an efficient, seamless and business-friendly manner without compromising border security; managing opportunities for Member States to undertake joint marketing of the OECS yachting product in target markets; and formulation of a Code of Ethics for operators in the yachting sector. However, all agree that enough is not being done to move these ideas, which have been on the books for years, into the series of actionable pieces that will deliver results, revenue and jobs.
The OECS Secretariat has itself actively promoted and pioneered a number of initiatives in the yachting sector over the past few years but the vital public-private sector partnerships needed to sustain these initiatives have not developed. Under the tag line "Many Islands… One Sea", the Secretariat coordinated the first OECS presence as a guest of honor at one of the world's premiere boat shows: the Grand Pavois in France. The Secretariat assisted with the development of marine trade associations in several Member States; used the ARC to work with Member States in the hosting of an OECS Rally; met with the largest French charter company to negotiate issues relating to provisioning for the yachting industry and systems for the prepayment of clearance fees; held meetings with the yachting community on crime, safety and security and on simplified procedures for clearing in and out; and initiated discussions between St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Grenada on the concept of the Grenadines as a single maritime space - all important, worthwhile initiatives which regrettably have not developed the traction required for their follow-up and sustainability. The potential of this industry is too vital to the social and economic development of the OECS to be left to the vagaries of chance; it represents an incredible resource literally on our doorstep and must be given the attention it deserves. It lends itself exquisitely to the development of a common policy framework, and members of the yachting fraternity have always been willing partners in the bid to ensure the growth and viability of the sector.
In preparation for a meeting of senior OECS tourism officials a few weeks ago in St. Lucia, I contacted a couple of well-known personalities in the world of Caribbean yachting. One is Sally Erdle, your hostess here this morning and a real advocate for the yachting sector and community. Most of the issues which Sally and I discussed years ago still exist and are inimical to the development of a vibrant yachting sector here in the OECS. Sally emphasized the importance of standardization of clearance procedures and entry fees. Her view? Harmonized fees and simple procedures would encourage yachts to visit the OECS, and encourage clearance compliance once here.
I also contacted Chris Doyle, author of one of the most influential cruising guides in the Caribbean. Chris pointed to the need for basic infrastructure - for example, the importance of dinghy docks to ensure that yachtspersons spend money ashore. He also underscored the willingness of members of the yachting community to work with the public sector to ensure that plans for the industry are practical and result in the best outcomes.
The Revised Treaty of Basseterre identifies Oceans Governance and management of the single maritime space as one of the important aspects of the work of the OECS (Secretariat) Commission. Your being here today is both timely and vital as participants in the conversations required to initiate the actions required to unlock the tremendous potential of the yachting sector to contribute to the development of the OECS. Issues such as pollution, crime and safety at sea, clearance procedures, fees and permits, anchoring and moorings, reef and sea grass protection, provisioning, infrastructure and skills transfer comprise some elements of the agenda which requires further dialogue - and action.
Over the last few days OECS Ministers of Tourism have been meeting in St Kitts & Nevis to chart a new path for the management of tourism in the Economic Union. The yachting sector has a pivotal role to play in that regard. While other sectors are also important, the truth is that the potential of yachting to contribute to the social and economic wellbeing of this region remains largely untapped. Simply put, more needs to be done.
It is in this spirit that I ask for your continued goodwill in working with us in the development of this sector. I invite you to send to Sally, a Goodwill Ambassador for yachting sector interests in the OECS, your ideas regarding how we ensure the transformation of this archipelago of islands - from the BVI in the north to Grenada in the south - into a Mecca for sailing, contributing positively to the sustainable use of the natural resources of these islands and the social and economic development of this corner of paradise and its citizens.
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