Yachting a Top Priority
in OECS Common Tourism Policy
by John Duffy
Yachting was a top priority at a meeting of tourism stakeholders held on August 17th and 18th in Antigua. This conference/workshop was the concluding meeting of a period of detailed regional consultation on tourism.
The purpose of the consultation was to develop a Common Tourism Policy throughout the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). OECS members are Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines; Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands are associate members. The OECS was created in 1981 by the Treaty of Basseterre, which was subsequently revised to include the Common Tourism Policy.
Following ratification by various OECS countries in 2009 and 2010, the OECS Secretariat with funding from the Commonwealth Secretariat employed consultants from the UK, Yellow Railroad, to assist in the production of draft document on a Common Tourism Policy.
Tourism stakeholders from all OECS countries were asked to participate in a workshop conference held in St. Lucia on March 23rd and 24th. At that time the Caribbean Marine Association (CMA) was moribund and no representative was sent to the meeting.
For two weeks at the end of March, consultants visited the OECS countries, recording their experiences and the comments of stakeholders. A meeting was then held in St. Kitts on April 19th with Ministers of Tourism from the various countries, and the Draft Common Tourism Policy was produced.
This Draft Common Tourism Policy document comprised 50 pages with 20 policy actions. It detailed the various policy action options and the reasoning behind those options. These policy action options were identified by a variety of subjects, all of which are of importance to regional tourism but not all of which are achievable in the immediate future.
To determine which of the policy actions had the higher priorities, the OECS organized another meeting of tourism stakeholders, which was held on August 17th and 18th in Antigua. The CMA, having been revitalized, was invited to this meeting.
From the outset, yachting was seen to be a top priority. Opening remarks by Minister of Tourism for Antigua & Barbuda, the Hon. John Maginley, concentrated heavily on the value of yachting to Antigua and to the region as a whole. He implored the conference to take the same forward-looking attitude to yachting as Antigua has done over the past few years. Naturally, this was music to the ears of those stakeholders representing the yachting industry. This theme was raised repeatedly on the first day of the conference with the consultants constantly referring to directions from all the OECS Ministers of Tourism to give yachting a high priority.
Discussions on areas that affect yachting concentrated on factors such as border controls, Customs, single maritime space, universal use of ESeaClear and marine pollution. The CMA was fortunate in having two representatives in attendance, myself as President, and Director John West from St. Vincent & the Grenadines. We were also particularly lucky to have Ivor Jackson present, who wrote the original yachting impact report that formed part of the seminal ECLAC Regional Study in 2001.
Inevitably, Day Two concentrated on a variety of other matters, many of which will have an impact on yachting, but were of much broader interest to common tourism as a whole.
At the end of the conference, stakeholders were asked to prioritize the top five of the 20 policy actions. Participants were divided into three groups of nine or ten and, while each group came to slightly differing conclusions, the emphasis was very much the same. While those policies which had an affect on tourism overall achieved the highest priorities, they also related very much to yachting.
At the top of the list was Product Development, which addresses issues of inter-island access and joint development of tourism products including yachting. Next was Human Resources Development, covering that welcome from the Customs or Immigration Officer, and a lot more. Then came Tourism Awareness — sensitizing the population to the realities and values of tourism, not only in their approach to visitors but also in the way the country is presented to visitors in areas as simple as litter control.
Other priorities such as Border Control, Regional Air Access, Investment, and Research & Statistics, scored equally. To almost everyone’s surprise, Environmental Sustainability did not fall into the top five priorities and, with yachting playing a big part in marine ecology, this is something the CMA and others may want revisited. However, with the OECS Protection of the Eastern Caribbean’s Regional Diversity (PERB) project funded by USAID, marine pollution and the impact of watersports is already under consideration.
For more than 50 years, yachting did not appear on Ministry of Tourism agendas, not even under “any other business”. In the past five or six years the recognition of the value and importance of yachting has risen to the top of the agenda, and rightly so. It is now the responsibility of the CMA and other marine organizations to keep it there and to ensure that policies are enacted by OECS Governments which improve the yachting visitor experience throughout the OECS region and, in due course, throughout the Caribbean.
See a copy of the Draft Common Tourism Policy document at www.caribbeanmarineassociation.com/v2/objectives.php. Anyone wishing to submit a comment should do so to [email protected] by September 14th.
My thanks go to Dr. Lorraine Nicholas of the OECS Secretariat and Tom Buncle of the Yellow Railroad for supplying facts and comments.
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