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Our tourism industry is under threat

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THE CHARACTER OF our economy has drastically changed over the past three to four decades. Whereas before, we were overwhelmingly dependent on agriculture and the export of goods, in recent times our economy has evolved to be predominantly a service-based one. This is a trend not unique to St Vincent and the Grenadines, but similar to developments in the rest of the Caribbean, and indeed the world, where more and more the services industries are becoming vital cogs in the global economy.{{more}}

Within this evolution in our country, the hospitality sector is by far the most valuable, with tourism in particular being dominant.

But we are still far behind most of our neighbouring countries where tourism development is concerned, given our limitations in air access, with the Argyle International Airport still not in operation. There is in turn a certain lack of tourism and service awareness among our general population, which needs to be addressed and our tourism infrastructure and facilitating environment is far from what it ought to be.

SVG has tended to concentrate on relatively high-end tourism, resorts in the Grenadines and Buccama on the mainland, and yacht tourism, as valuable revenue-earning areas. It places in turn great responsibility, not only on our government, but also on the people of our country to ensure that our guests are welcome, happy and safe, and that things are organized in such a manner to bring benefits to as wide a cross-section of the population as possible, not just to a few investors.

Tourism is itself very fragile and vulnerable to all kinds of threats, internal and external. In recent years, some once flourishing tourism destinations have suffered because of various manmade and public health threats. Some big powerful countries have adopted the practice of issuing what are called “travel advisories,” warning their citizens against visiting countries perceived, for one reason or another, as not “safe”. These can be potentially damaging to fragile economies.

Be that as it may, it is vital that every effort be expended to ensure a stable and safe environment for our visitors, and to assure investors, actual and potential, of the security of their investment, the safety of their clients and the stability of the country. On the other hand, any self-respecting government must ensure that the rights of its citizens are not subsumed to the interests of investors or visitors. We must all share in the benefits.

The brutal murder of a German national and the wounding of another, whilst visiting by yacht, is not only a shock to us all, it is a threat to our tourism industry. What happened at Wallilabou last Friday is not an image or reputation that any country would wish and makes us wonder to what extent are our security forces paying attention to such security threats. Do we wait on incidents before we react in alarm?

This challenge to our tourism sector could not come at a worse time, as at present, in Canouan, there is a challenge of another type which may see hundreds of workers losing their jobs. It is not beyond the protagonists there, with the intervention of government, to arrive at a settlement amenable to all involved. We cannot afford, just as we are talking about major tourism expansion with the opening of the Argyle Airport, to allow our thrust for tourism development to be undermined. Tourism is a priority and must be treated as such.

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