AS the region discuss new ways of rebuilding a more competitive air sector in the COVID-19 aftermath, industry leaders have cited the need for greater levels of collaboration to address inter-connectivity issues in order to secure fruitful multi-destination tourism for the Caribbean.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, speaking at the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) conference during the fourth staging of Caribbean Aviation Day, cited travel and tourism as key industries needed to change how the region's economic landscape is crafted.
"As individual countries, we cannot recover alone — it means that we'll have to forego our great sense of sovereignty and nationalism and begin to look at how we can collaborate and coordinate and stop competing and begin to have co-petition instead of competition as this is the essence of what multi-destination is going to be," he said during a panel discussion on Wednesday.
"To engage multi-destination tourism, which is to provide multiple experiences on one visit at a price — a packaged price — means the harmonisation of various protocols and policies. It means our political leaders have got to understand that there is going to be something called a single air space in the Caribbean where the airline will not have to pay to fly over multi destinations," he further said, calling again for a single-visa regime to boost tourism travels across destinations within the region.
He further rejected calls for increased travel tax, arguing that this could significantly affect the cost of travel which was already high across the region.
"The question of taxation shouldn't be a serious consideration for tourism because of who and what we are and what we do. Tourism for us is an export, but is an export that we import, so it means that we have to provide incentives for the import of our export, and taxation in my mind is an anathema in that regard," he stated.
The three-day travel event held in the Cayman Islands from September 12-15 was powered under the theme 'Recover, Reconnect, Revive'. It brought together tourism and government leaders, stakeholders as well as aviation and travel experts who sat down to discuss the opportunities and challenges for tourism and airlift.
Kenneth Bryan, newly appointed chairman of CTO, who is also minister of tourism and transportation in the Cayman Islands, said that with both industries now dealing with recovery following significant fallout since the pandemic, they have shown commendable levels of resilience.
"The two industries are interdependent and mutually reinforcing in the sense that airlifts drive tourism and increased tourism drives air capacity. If one breaks down there is an inevitable impact on the other and this is one of the reasons for both industries to be considered two parts of the same equation," he stated.
"Tourism is a significant economic driver for all of us in this region, yet the lack of inter-regional air connectivity often makes travelling to neighbouring islands seem like a long-haul journey. The concept of regional integration and the need for regional visas have been talked about for decades and to date those discussions have not led to any real actions or conclusion but if we can improve regional interconnectivity this could transform our region, however turning this into a reality will require a cohesive and coordinated effort if we decide to give it a try," Bryan said.