Launch of the UNWTO Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development

I am exceptionally glad for this special opportunity to bring awareness on the UNWTO year of sustainable tourism for development. Indeed, it is telling that the UN General Assembly has declared ‘2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development’.

As Antigua and Barbuda’s Minister of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment & Energy, I am more than elated to embrace the widest group of stakeholders.

Our grouping of local stakeholders is wide and encompassing, I can think of: the policymakers, tourism planners, investors, service providers of every sort, hoteliers, environmentalists, technicians, developers, architects, construction workers, restaurateurs, and many others.

Perhaps none more vital than our residents because it is all of us collectively as a people that will help drive Antigua and Barbuda’s success in meeting our tourism and sustainable development objectives. The great Benjamin Franklin once said  “without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.”

Antigua and Barbuda welcomes this the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. Our planning and scope of work in 2017 will be to exploit the opportunities that will help us to enhance this twin-island paradise as a preferred tourist destination.

In addition, and throughout the ministerial portfolios that I lead – and they all have a direct bearing on our tourism product – we will be bold and innovative as we face head-on the challenges that come about with growing tourism while ensuring Antigua and Barbuda’s sustainable development.

That means, it will not be business as usual; nor will we be so myopic as to confront our national development through single lenses. In this year that is dedicated to tourism for sustainable development, we will see more focus on a change in policy, practices in business, and behaviour of consumers to achieving a more sustainable sector.

In the contemporary era, the tourism industry is complex with forward and backward linkages, with the ecosystem of a country fitting into the jigsaw. The tourism experience in Antigua and Barbuda comprises all that the tourist sees, uses and experiences as part of their tourist encounter. This includes: accommodation, transport, food and drink, banking, shopping, attractions, and personal services.

UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai, is on record stating that: “This is a unique opportunity to build a more responsible and committed tourism sector that can capitalise its immense potential in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation.”

My Ministry and the Government of Antigua and Barbuda concurs with this profound sentiment. A sustainable approach to tourism will lead to the development of innovative, quality tourism products and services that will make the Antigua and Barbuda even more attractive.

Ladies and Gentlemen Tourism is the main industry in Antigua and Barbuda. There can be no shunning the simple fact that our tourism industry continues to be dynamic, and it is the main pillar of economic growth for our twin-isle paradise. This is so in terms of economic development and in relation to being responsible for most direct and indirect employment.

Tourism accounts for almost 55 % of the workforce. This means that there are several thousand persons in Antigua and Barbuda contributing to the tourism sector and to our sustainable development. The result is that this nation benefits tremendously when tourism goals meet the expectations of our people.

Yet, as a nation, my Ministry is mindful of the competitiveness in tourism, and the need to ensure the wise management of our natural, built, and sociocultural resources. Antigua and Barbuda is much more than sun, sea, sand and warm friendly people.

For us, it is these and more; Sustainable tourism also comprises a range of products and services. This is exactly why synergy and effective resource management are prerequisites for us going forward in 2017 and beyond.

Notwithstanding, there are major and numerous challenges that we must constantly consider for sustainable tourism. Yet, for us in this Small Island Developing State of Antigua and Barbuda, these challenges or obstacles are not insurmountable.

These concerns include: preserving natural and cultural resources, limiting negative impacts at tourist destinations, including the use of natural resources and, promoting the wellbeing of the local community, reducing the seasonality of demand and limiting waste production. For example the banning of the use of plastic bags is a classic example of what we have done as a Government to manage waste production. We are unique in our efforts as the first Caribbean country to take this bold step in sustainable development. Similar initiatives such as recycling and energy conservation must become resident in our homes, schools, government offices, and hotels.

We must also limit the environmental impact of tourism related transport, making tourism accessible to all, and of great importance – improving the quality of tourism jobs.

Therefore, there can be no underestimating the work that the Government has done and will be doing, particularly this year as we heighten the awareness on sustainable tourism for development.

In the Ministry, it is anticipated that we will be hosting and/or supporting several events, forums, and at least one significant conference to stimulate ideas and fertilise the types of policies and actions that are conducive to our national well-being.

The results that we have achieved over the last 30 months is testimony to our vision for progress, and to the strategic, committed, efforts that my Ministry which has been working alongside all stakeholders have invested for our collective prosperity.

If you will, permit me to thank and praise the country’s overall accomplishments to date. We have made positive steps under the progressive and astute leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister, Gaston Browne.

PM Browne and the Cabinet have been very supportive of the several sustainable tourism and energy initiatives that my Ministry has put on the table. These continue to bring substantial benefits to all our people and will add lustre to Antigua and Barbuda as an erstwhile tourist destination. For example we have one of the “greenest” airports in the world, which now gets 75% of its power supply from solar renewable sources.  We have used our creativity to harness the abundant sunshine that our nation has been blessed with in more ways than one.

Our commitment as a Government is to transform this economy into the economic powerhouse of the region. We have been robust in our efforts to attract new investments while ensuring that these investments add value to the people and to our environment. For example the Callaloo Cay project at Morris Bay is one that has directly engaged and involved the local community in the creation of a recreational park, which will enhance the quality of life for the residents in that area.

Ladies and Gentlemen: In this drive to bring jobs, wealth, and prosperity to Antigua and Barbuda, it is even more necessary that we take exceptional care of the tourism product and of the country’s sustainable development.

We must therefore consider taking a holistic, integrated approach to the business of tourism, sustainability and development.

Such an approach demands planning for the long term, adopting an appropriate pace of development, and making sure we involve all stakeholders at both the decision-making and implementation stages.

In conjunction with other ministries and agencies, the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Development, Investment & Energy will endeavour to use the best available knowledge while minimising and managing risks, particularly as we seek to build more hotels and transform the City of St. John’s. The next phase of the US$60M St. John’s Master plan has started. This is a sustainable plan to ensure our cruise port and its environs will be ready for the Oasis class ships by November this year. This is sustainable tourism development at its best!

Conscious of the rapid changes that can occur in the tourism industry, some of which usually would incur both planned and unplanned costs, my Ministry will be more meticulous in its efforts of managing our revenues and expenditures. Sustainability, by its very nature, encourages a prudent approach to Governance. We must show that we understand the challenges and the impacts of costs, by setting and respecting budget limits, while practicing continuous monitoring of all projects and strategic choices.

Ladies and gentlemen the competitiveness of the tourism industry is closely linked to its sustainability, and by extension the quality of Antigua and Barbuda as a premier tourist destination.

Therefore, we cannot disregard the safety of our visitors or that of our residents. In fact, this aspect of tourism sustainability is strongly influenced by the natural and cultural environment.

We are therefore committed to maintaining our parks and beaches, improving and expanding our greening projects, improving our street-lighting, and also ensuring that our physical and aesthetic amenities provide ease of access for the disabled. These are the initiatives that will prove transformative for our nation’s sustainable tourism development.

Our plans of sustainable tourism development are constantly evolving and our intent is on having integration with all key aspects that positively impact on the local communities.

Surely, long term sustainability requires a balance between sustainability in economic, socio-cultural and environmental terms.  The way to accomplish this is by working in tandem with the broad range of stakeholders given the need to reconcile economic growth and sustainable development.

In addition, we must not forget the ethical dimension to all that we do. This is precisely why it is important that the Ministry of Tourism and its supporting agencies are inclusive, and broaden the spectrum of our valued stakeholders by providing information and involving them in our plans and programs.

As your Tourism Minister working on behalf of all Antiguans and Barbudans, I shall ensure that my Ministry increases the involvement of the local population in the ownership, management, and operation of tourism facilities and events.

This single effort would likely achieve greater buy-in for sustainable tourism development and at the same time, serve to increase tourism earnings while retaining more profitable returns in the country.

This year, my Ministry will formally highlight the government’s ongoing efforts in developing renewable energy as a major boost to our sustainable tourism development.

The energy being provided at the V.C. International Airport Terminal is merely a starting point. We also have new and refurbished infrastructure gravitating to the use of renewable energy in very encouraging ways as to dampen our demands for imported fossil fuels. Already, there are plans to complete the addition of a total of 10 MW of renewable energy to the grid in Antigua and Barbuda in 2017. Initiatives such as these reduce our carbon footprint and increase our attractiveness as a “Green” Tourism destination.

Ladies and Gentlemen: It is imperative that we overcome perceived and real boundaries that can slow our progress or otherwise derail worthy projects from being implemented, as has happened with projects such as Paradise Found on Barbuda.

We respect the need for environmental legislation and regulations. In fact we have robust systems in place to recognise shortcomings, and to correct them. However once these are rectified, we must strive to ensure that approved sustainable development projects proceeds to the mutual benefit of all stakeholders.

This year my Ministry will continue to invest in protecting this nation’s heritage assets and other natural resources.

Under this government, I am confident of achieving equity in the distribution of costs and benefits with the wealth accrued from sustainable tourism development.

Ladies and gentlemen bringing socio-economic security and prosperity to our nation’s people is an immediate task that coincides with Antigua and Barbuda’s pledged commitment to pursue the UNWTO’s lines of actions for this year.

Indeed, the actions include: advocacy and awareness on sustainable tourism development, the dissemination of information and expanding the knowledge base in the relevant areas. I therefore wish to encourage the private sector, NGOs, civil society, and realistically all stakeholders to embrace the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This Agenda is a plan of action for people, planet and prosperity.

Added to these actions are the formulation of the requisite policies that engender capacity building, and the continuous education of the society thereby encouraging higher degrees of individual and collective responsibility for achieving the objectives pertaining to sustainable tourism development.

As the Minister responsible for Tourism, Investment and Energy, I remain confident that greater awareness as to the things to be done, and keeping all concerns at the forefront of our planning will trigger the Antigua and Barbuda people to recognise that the potential of sustainable tourism development is considerable, and one to which we as a country remain fully committed.

In 2017, we are pivotally placed to ensure that there is harmonious coexistence of tourism development and the maintenance of environmental quality into the future. The effective management of our sustainable tourism development is an imperative that this twin-isle paradise called Antigua and Barbuda cannot ignore. Thank you.

GUESTS:

Ms. Paula Frederick Hunte Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism Economic Development, Investment and Energy

Mr. Colin C. James, CEO, Antigua and Barbuda Tourism Authority

Ms. Shirlene Nibbs, Tourism Consultant