Christie outlines keys to Caribbean growth

By Gay Nagle Myers

FREEPORT, Bahamas -- Collaboration, cooperation, commitment and coordinated air connections are the keys to the reinvention of Caribbean tourism, Bahamas prime minister Perry G. Christie told delegates at the CTC-25 conference in Freeport, Bahamas, this week.

In his keynote speech, Christie railed against what he described as the "same old discussions that took place 20 years ago that never accomplished anything but continuing competitiveness" in the region.

Taking aim at the airlines, Christie said, "Lock the CEOs of the airlines in a room and refuse to open the door until they have a plan to reduce losses and increases services to and throughout the Caribbean."

The prime minister addressed some other issues, too.

He said the Caribbean product is "the total visitor experience -- from booking to the return back home. We have to improve this product all along the line."

Christie said that the same intensity with which Caribbean governments view their visitor statistics must be used to "stamp out criminal behavior in every Caribbean country."

More highlights from CTC-25:

• The Bahamas was elected to a second two-year term as chair of the CTO. Bahamas minister of tourism Obie Wilchombe, who assumed the chairmanship in May following the Progressive Liberal Party's election victory, will continue to serve as chairman of the regional body.

• Jim Hepple, executive vice president of the Curacao Tourist Board, reported an overall 6% increase in visitors for the first nine months of the year, with U.S. arrivals up 12%.

• A new niche market for St. Lucia is sports tourism, which will receive heavy promotion in 2003. Arrivals are down 3.8% from January through August this year compared with 2001, officials said, and cruises business has fall 20% this year.

• The numbers for Grenada are good. U.S. arrivals from January through August posted an 8.3% increase, with overall visitor figures showing a 16.9% jump. William Joseph, director of tourism, said US Airways' new service out of Philadelphia, which begins in December, is expected to boost those figures even more.

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