July 2, 2008

Caribbean Leaders Discuss Fuel Prices, Tourism at Regional Summit

Text of report by Caribbean Media Corporation news agency website on 2 July

St John's, Antigua: Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders Wednesday began their first full day of deliberations focusing on the tourism sector that has been a key contributor to their economies.

Recent global developments, such as the rising cost of fuel and changes in schedules by US-based airlines to the Caribbean could undermine the viability of an industry that provides thousands of jobs for Caribbean nationals.

The leaders will hear special presentations by St Lucia's Tourism Minister and chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) Allan Chastanet and his Antigua and Barbuda counterpart Harold Lovell on efforts to make the sector more competitive in light of the new threats, including a 17 per cent cut-back in airline services from the United States

- the region's main tourist market.

Chastanet told the Caribbean Media Corporation (CMC) that oil prices were expected to reach an estimated US170 dollars a barrel, and that this could also be accompanied by a 20 per cent cut in capacity of the US airlines industry.

"Clearly as the price of oil continues to increase that may get more serious," he said.

The CTO chairman said that the presentation would again emphasise the need for branding the Caribbean, adding a "brand is just not marketing, it is a promise".

"Unfortunately we have not done that," he said, adding that the introduction of the satellite accounting system to measure the economic importance of the tourism industry to Caribbean countries was vital.

"Tourism is never reflected in national accounts and if something is not measureable you can't improve upon it," he said

"We are going to do a presentation because we have now found funding to help the governments implement satellite accounting systems in each country".

The leaders will also be discussing the air transportation sector later on Tuesday with Chastanet indicating that the issue of establishing hubs to service the region would be on the agenda.

"Also we would be looking at the Caribbean as a single space," he said noting also that there is need to combine the various civil aviation authorities in the region.

"One has to consider whether we can achieve more by having one civil aviation authority, that would be more cost effective and more prolific in what they are trying to achieve".

Chastanet said that the crisis now confronting the tourism industry has also shown that the operations of the regional airlines were not viable.

"One of the things that all of our airlines are proving in this region is that they are not economically viable, so we know that the model we have been using doesn't work and I am really hoping that we really had... functional cooperation.

"There should be at least a meeting a year in which the regional carriers are sitting down and trying to make sure that their schedules are coincided. Why should a person have to leave the Bahamas and have to go the (United) States in order to come to the other parts of the Caribbean?

"Why can't that take place through Jamaica and then down into the Eastern Caribbean. It is ridiculous that Caribbean airlines and LIAT don't even interlock. So those are the things that we will be bringing to the Heads' attention and basically saying this is now having a negative impact on our tourism arrivals.

Host Prime Minister and CARICOM chairman, Baldwin Spencer said that increases in airfares and new airline charges were also contributing to the "bleak perspectives for the region's tourism- driven economies".

He said that while he was encouraged by the efforts of the regional airline LIAT to fill the void created by the reduction in airlift by US air carriers, it was not, however, a viable proposition.

"International airlift is a present and critical problem. So, too, regional sea and air transportation for tourism and trade and personal and business travel," Spencer said.

Originally published by Caribbean Media Corporation news agency website, Bridgetown, in English 1450 2 Jul 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Americas. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.