By Rene Seon / CMC
GEORGETOWN, Guyana – The 24th Inter-American Congress of Ministers and High-Level Authorities on Tourism (CITUR) began in Georgetown on Wednesday with President David Granger urging that the Americas be promoted as a zone of peace.
“The promotion of sustainable tourism initiatives and the marketing of the Americas as a ‘zone of peace,’ in a world with so many wars and conflicts should be subjects for consideration at this Congress,” Granger told delegates attending the two-day event of the Organization of American States (OAS).
“The protection of the Americas’ patrimony, its natural assets, its cultural diversity and this blissful state of peace, is the bedrock of sustainable tourism,” Granger said, adding that tourism industries must be protected from the perils of transnational threats such as cybercrime and trafficking in drugs, guns and people.
“Security cooperation against transnational threats will make our societies safer for our citizens and our visitors,” he told the delegates.
The two-day Congress is being held under the theme, “Connecting the Americas through Sustainable Tourism,” and Granger said Guyana likes to describe itself as “a continental country with Caribbean characteristics.”
He said it is the only English-speaking country on the continent of South America reminding his audience “we are the ‘gateway’ to the Continent for the goods, services and peoples of the South to markets and destinations in the Caribbean, Central America and North America”.
Granger said that the Americas are unique in world history, possessing spectacular attractions.
“They have more than the traditional Mediterranean and Pacific sun, sand and sea tourism. They are rich in cultural diversity. The immigrants, together with the indigenous peoples, have woven a fantastic fabric of faiths, festivals and foods.
“The Americas are endowed with un-spoilt islands, highlands, grasslands, wetlands, waterfalls, lakes, rivers and rainforests, which are the habitat of unmatched flora and wildlife. The Americas must protect and preserve these priceless assets for the benefit of present and future generations.”
He said Americas, despite their just wars of independence and a few civil wars, are a hemisphere of relative peace in the present turbulent world.
President Granger said that Guyana’s commitment to hemispheric integration is manifested in its membership of regional and hemispheric organizations, including the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); Association of Caribbean States (ACS); Common Market of the South (MERCOSUR); Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC); Organization of America States (OAS) and the Union of South American States (UNASUR).
“Guyana describes itself, also, as the ‘green state’ – one that practises sustainable development by harnessing its rich natural capital, unique biodiversity and diverse ecosystems. The ‘green state’, will allow Guyana to develop a resilient tourism sector by protecting the environment.”
He said Guyana, together with Brazil, Colombia, Suriname and other states of Central and South America, is a home to some of the giants of the world.
“The largest anacondas, ants and not surprisingly, the largest anteaters, the largest armadillos, bats, caimans, eagles, fish, otters, rodents, snakes, spiders, storks, toads, turtles and vultures, all of these creatures, the largest in the world are to be found here in Guyana on the Continent of South America.”
He said the conference coincides with celebration of International Day of Forests and that “Guyana is proud to boast of its extensive coverage of rainforests.
“Tourism connects countries, markets, peoples and services of the hemisphere. Tourism can contribute to the economic development of the Americas and to the well-being of future generations by becoming more sustainable.
“This Congress is therefore urged to seek solutions to ensuring that the Americas can catalyze their tourism potential by increasing annual tourist arrivals,” he said, adding this could be achieved by by protecting the Americas’ natural capital by developing a concerted approach to the environment; promoting increased connectivity between tourist destinations by encouraging the development of infrastructure and providing smaller states, particularly the small-island states of the Caribbean, with easier access to capital for investments to build a more resilient industry.
Granger said that while small island states tend to lack the resources to finance their own air and shipping lines so that new routes can be exploited to boost tourist arrivals, nonetheless “travel needs to be cheaper, easier and faster.
“Destinations need to be connected efficiently to make tourism more competitive with our parts of the world. The Americas can straddle the sea and integrate the continents, North and South through information and communications technology. This Congress should consider charting a roadmap to create a single ICT Space of the Americas.”
He said sustainable tourism requires sustained action to ensure a more climate resilient tourism sector. “Climate change is real, at least on this Continent. It is not an intellectual invention or political sophistry. Climate change represents the most potent threat to Caribbean tourism, particularly to small-island and low-lying coastal states.
“Rising sea levels are eroding beaches, destroying coral reefs and disrupting marine life – all prime Caribbean tourist attractions are the result of climate change. Extreme weather patterns are precipitating droughts and floods, which diminish food supplies and customer services needed by the tourism sector,’ Granger warned.
He said that climate resilient tourism will help the hemisphere to recover from natural hazards.
“The increased frequency and ferocity of hurricanes in the Caribbean, as last year’s season of Hurricane Harvey and his sisters can attest, inflicted severe damage to infrastructure – bridges, boats, hotels, roads, resorts and utilities, which are vital to tourism.
“The 21st century must become the ‘Century of the South.’ The North and East have had their day. It is now the South’s turn. A sustainable tourism sector can make this century an occasion for rediscovering the ‘New’ world,” he told the conference.
The conference here is expected to discuss a number of presentations from various stakeholders including the Secretary General of the Barbados-based Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Hugh Riley and Caribbean tourism ministers.
It will also discuss a range of issues ranging from building tourism resilience to enhancing multi-destination travel and strengthening business alliances in the Americas.
Executive Secretary of the Secretariat for Integral Development (SEDI), Kim Osborne said the conference has presented an opportunity for cooperation and collaboration for the enhancement of the region’s tourism product.
“This conference enjoys the good fortune to have in its midst ministers and higher-level authorities of tourism of the majority of OAS member states as well as representatives of the private sector and civil society groups and academia. Together we have the opportunity to advance cooperation and collaboration to adopt concrete plans to better connect the Americas and pursue our collective development objectives,” Osborne noted. – CMC