We’re practical people in the tourism industry and we need practical help. One of the reasons we were so supportive of the EPA project was that it recognised the need to provide capacity building to the Caribbean tourism industry to ensure that the industry continues to grow and prosper. It is a competitive world out there and Caribbean tourism needs to innovate if it is to continue to act as the principle driver behind the region’s economic growth.
The EPA includes many welcome commitments to supporting the industry in practical ways; such as developing and applying the highest Caribbean environmental standards in the tourism sector; providing training on the latest international best practice in hospitality; helping our industry grow by supporting our marketing efforts; and giving our hotels the necessary legal back-up to ensure that the whole supply chain is playing by the same rules.
We’re ready to play our part in shaping and delivering the programmes and capacity building initiatives which were outlined in the EPA and we are keen to progress with putting these programmes into place: after all, we are already half-way through the 10th EDF programming period. Inevitably, time was needed to evaluate and prioritise the different sectors which would be provided with funding support but now must be the time to bring on-board the expertise and experience of the private sector and to start using the private sector to identify and deliver new programmes.
We are delighted to hear that Caribbean Export has now been confirmed as the agency responsible for much of the trade-related assistance which will be delivered under the Regional Indicative Programme and we look forward to developing projects and programmes with them over the next weeks and months.
The funds managed by Caribbean Export however represent a small fraction of the total funds which the EU had originally stated would be available for trade-related assistance through National Indicative Programmes, the remainder of the Regional Indicative Programme and the Aid-for-Trade programmes of EU member states.
When will these remaining funds be made available to applicants? How much will be available to the tourism sector? What procedures will they need to follow? Is there a risk that EDF money will not even be allocated by 2013 and lost forever? From our perspective, it is extremely difficult to identify the funding sources, to determine whether they are applicable to us, to understand how to approach the fund, to know the format a project proposal should take, how and to whom it should be submitted etc. All too often, just identifying sources of funds and putting together proposals requires resources poses real challenges for us as an industry representative body, let alone the small hotel businesses which we represent.
To this end, with support from the CARTFUND, we have produced for our members, and others across the industry, a user-friendly handbook which explains what the EPA means for Caribbean tourism and what types of support were promised to the industry. We are also organising a series of workshops about the EPA for our members so that they can let us know directly where they see the EPA adding value to their businesses and where they need help.
We recognise this is just a start – there are still many question marks over how CHTA members should apply for support and we would welcome clarity from our partners in the EU and CARIFORUM on how our hotels should be applying for the support which was outlined in the EPA.
We, as an industry, want to engage in the process of implementing the EPA. We want to make our input to the EPA implementation road-map; to have a voice on the EU-CARIFORUM Consultative Committee; and when there are problems, we want to see them addressed at the EU-CARIFORUM Trade and Development Committee. The Consultative Committee in particular should act as an important forum for the EU and Caribbean Governments to engage with the private sector and get their input to policy on inter-regional trade issues and EPA implementation. As an industry which is responsible for so much of the region’s economic well-being, we look forward to playing an active role on that Committee.
CHTA is well-aware of the real and lasting benefits which EU development assistance can provide to the tourism sector:
In 2008, we completed a five year development programme for sustainable tourism delivered under the 8th EDF. This programme provided valuable and practical advice and support for producing manuals for our members on international best practice in tourism in a wide range of areas including: safe food preparation; good environmental management; and how to develop new linkages with other parts of the local economy – for example by sourcing local food products or handicrafts. The programme also provided important hands-on training for hotel managers and staff on sustainable management and effective operations practices.
We have also received support in recent years from CDE and ProInvest for other important projects including:
1. An E-commerce platform for small hotels which created a website so that hotels could have a presence on the internet for the first time and provide them with a platform from which to market themselves and receive more direct bookings.
2. A Visitor Safety and Security project which gathered recommendations for improving security practices at tourism sites.
3. An energy conservation project called CHENACT to assist hotels to introduce energy conservation practices which will save them money.
4. A Hotel Spend Study which illustrated the purchasing practices of Caribbean tourism establishments in terms of what they were buying locally or regionally versus sourcing internationally.
I would like to take this opportunity to express gratitude on behalf of CHTA and its members for the assistance which the European Commission and EU Member States have provided to these projects which have all helped significantly to enhance the productivity and competitiveness of the region’s tourism industry.
Time however does not stand still. As new destinations like Thailand or Dubai emerge in the global tourism market-place, with a competitive product and a competitive price offering, it is ever more important that the Caribbean tourism industry does not rest on its laurels and that it responds quickly to maintain its competitive edge.
The practical measures of support which the EPA identifies for the tourism industry are badly needed today. I very much hope that, working together, we can ensure that the funds in the 10th EDF and in Member States Aid-for-Trade Programmes are made available soon to help our tourism industry, the life-blood of the Caribbean economy, respond to the challenges of tomorrow.