Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

United Nations (U.N.) World Tourism Day, held on Sept. 27 this year, offered an opportunity to focus on the importance of tourism as a force for transforming people and societies, and several organizations did just that.

In an official message, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that the potential for tourism to influence sustainable development is considerable. “As one of the world’s leading employment sectors, tourism provides important livelihood opportunities, helping to alleviate poverty and drive inclusive development,” he said.

The theme for the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) this year is “One Billion Tourists, One Billion Opportunities” (#1billiontourists).

Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill said the theme highlights how vital tourism can be to the economic well-being of a destination.  Perhaps nowhere is that more true than in the Caribbean.

“Our tourism sector continues to do well. It is the leading earner of foreign exchange. It attracts investments and provides employment for thousands of Jamaicans,” McNeill said.

In the Caribbean region, annual visitor numbers are approaching the 30 million mark, a goal the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) hopes to reach by the end of 2017. In 2014, a record 26.3 million people traveled to the region, an increase of 5.3% over 2013, according to data from the CTO.

Tourism is the No. 1 generator of foreign exchange for the region and “is responsible for approximately 33% of our gross domestic product,” said Hugh Riley, the CTO’s secretary general.

“Tourism continues to present the greatest opportunity for the countries of the Caribbean to create jobs, generate tax revenue and spawn new, locally owned businesses,” said Emil Lee, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA).

“When we look at the impact of tourism on gross domestic product and employment, with more than 2.2 million jobs in the region attributed to tourism, there is no question that tourism is our region’s main economic driver,” Lee said in a statement.

The CHTA and CTO are working together to collaborate in a public-private sector initiative to improve the competiveness of tourism and to attract more visitors as a means of job creation and debt reduction.

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