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Improvements to the physical infrastructure of the country and an overall injection of $11.8 million are some of the measures being taken to boost the Tourism sector this year. This seems to be the most appropriate option for an industry that has emerged as the lead sector in government’s overall policy of economic diversification.

Tourism’s contribution to job creation and foreign exchange earnings will by far outweigh those of other sectors of this country in 2006. {{more}} And with a number of major tourism projects scheduled to commence sometime this year, Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves has forecast that 2006 will be excellent for tourism.

According to the Finance Minister, in his budget presentation on Monday, about 50 percent of the tourism estimates will go towards promotions and marketing, while on the capital side, over $1.5 million has been allocated to the National Tourism Authority, the National Parks Authority, and the Union Island Tourism Project. Other tourism projects in the area of physical infrastructure, particularly airport and air access development, will expend the remainder of the annual tourism funding.

With tourism expansion projects pinpointed in the hotel industry for Canouan, Mt Wynne-Peter’s Hope, Bequia, Buccama, Rabacca and Union Island, Dr Gonsalves outlined that infrastructure must be in place to accommodate a growing tourism industry.

“Stay-over visitors come to the destination for a variety of reasons and therefore the product offering must be diverse, of the highest quality, and competitive. Each segment of the tourism business is important,” Dr. Gonsalves said.

The Prime Minister noted that stay over visitors and yachting tourism yield the greatest economic benefits to this country – a comparative rebound in recent years – but urged the need for structural reversal, in the context of what he claims to be the innovative framework which his government has been fashioning since 2001.

According to Dr. Gonsalves, this country is well placed to take advantage of emerging market segments, but to do so, must transform its tourism from the normally traditional ‘sun, sea and sand’ model to a more all-embracing destination model.

“Clearly, the ‘sun, sea and sand’ product is approaching the maturation and saturation stage for the product life cycle. Changes are accordingly, necessary and desirable in this regard,” he asserted.

Dr. Gonsalves tipped tourism as having an enormous potential to become the economic star of this country with signs of growth annually.

He noted that visitor arrivals here in 2004 had an increase of 8.3 per cent over 2003, and available information shows an upward trend, particularly in stay-over arrivals, up to the end of May 2005.

With an increase of 19.4 per cent in stay-over arrivals up to May last year, this percentage is likely to rise when the figures for the remainder of last year are tallied, an indication which points to a spill over into 2006.