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We have a long way to go

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We appear not to be serious about how and where our country is

going. In recent times, more voices are being heard on crime and the abuses meted out to women and children. The Church has found a voice on the medical marijuana issue. At last something has attracted their attention. Is it that it is non-threatening? We look forward annually to the Budget presentation to see what the Government has in store for us with regard to tax increases or any development projects that might bring jobs. But what after?

I saw recently a press release from St Lucia, stating that the country had broken records with total visitor arrivals of 1,105,541. The cruise sector had a 14 per cent increase, reaching 669, 217, “an additional 81, 264 visitors, despite the eight-month closure of the Pointe Seraphine Berth 1.” There was, of course, a remarkable increase in cruise arrivals here, thanks largely to the unavailability of some regional ports, because of the devastating hurricanes that affected parts of the region last year. Our real test will be our ability to continue to attract some of those that came here for the first time.

What strikes me is that while countries are quick to quote increased tourist arrivals, there isn’t the same readiness to provide information on the economic impact and an analysis of the industry. I was attracted by the views of Martha Honey, executive director of the Centre for Responsible Travel, as stated in a presentation she gave to the United World Tourism Organization Conference held in Jamaica. Extracts from that report were provided by David Jessop. He writes, “She pointed out that because land-based stay-over tourism is far more valuable than cruise tourism, governments would be wise to invest in strengthening sustainable long-stay tourism… Rather than seeking to attract large numbers of cruise visitors, countries should concentrate on attracting land-based ‘experiential’ travellers, who stay longer, spend more, tend to patronize local businesses, visit widely, and seek to learn and have genuine interactions with local people.”

Ms Honey might have overstated her case, for while one accepts that much more is gained from stay-over tourists, one can ill afford not to pay serious attention to cruise ship arrivals. But this is also a wake-up call to our authorities, for we have really fallen down on putting in place what is needed to attract stay-over visitors. I don’t know if it is a question of putting the cart before the horse, but we have not done a good job in ensuring adequate hotel accommodation and activities that will attract visitors to our shores. In this regard, we are playing catch-up. But what guides our approach to tourism? At one time under the former government, much was made of eco-tourism on the mainland and the traditional sea and sun tourism in the Grenadines.

But back to where I started. We follow the Budget debate and hear from Government and Opposition, but what of the other groups – unions, Chamber of Commerce, economists and accountants, farmers, women groups, ngos and churches? Don’t tell me that only marijuana can pull out the churches! Some most likely would have had discussions within their groups, but it needs to go further. There are often radio panels, but the in- depth discussion needed is absent. We face a problem too, in that we tend to react to the presenters as individuals, rather than to what they say. A budget is more than taxes or wages. Of importance should be the direction that is being paved and the creation of an environment that will facilitate the involvement of others. As a country, we really have a long way to go!

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.

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