The 22nd Inter-American Congress of Ministers and High-Level Authorities of Tourism, convened by the Organization of American States (OAS), began today in Bridgetown, Barbados under the theme “Tourism Competitiveness: An Essential Component of Sustainability”. The two-day meeting was inaugurated by Richard Sealy, Acting Prime Minister of Barbados and Minister of Tourism and International Transport, and the Assistant Secretary General of the OAS, Albert Ramdin, and included a message sent by OAS Secretary General José Miguel Insulza.
In his opening remarks, Acting Prime Minister Sealy affirmed his government’s commitment to the meeting’s selected theme, emphasizing that “sustainable tourism development should be operationalized as policies, plans and activities in a destination context aimed at ensuring that tourism develops without harming the economic, environmental and social wellbeing.”
“The OAS Member States as a whole must determine the future they want; define how it will be achieved; and take the necessary action to improve our competitiveness and sustainability, using in particular the fora available under the OAS banner,” he added, highlighting the Organization’s role in the area of development.
For his part, Albert R. Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the OAS stressed the cross-cutting nature of tourism and its linkages to other sectors. "The OAS attaches great importance to the issue of sustainable tourism for its transformative value; generating employment, income and foreign exchange but also for its role in community development, and its linkages with other key productive sectors in the economy," he said.
In his message, Secretary General Insulza said that for many OAS Member States, tourism is the main source of foreign currency and mentioned the connection between tourism and other sectors such as culture, transport, agriculture and construction, “which in turn provide a livelihood for many families”.
The head of the OAS highlighted that the main theme for the 22nd Inter American Congress ("Tourism Competitiveness: An Essential Component of Sustainability”) underscores “the notion that tourism is not merely an economic activity that generates employment and foreign currency, but one that is also a catalyst for achieving other strategic objectives while taking into account current and future economic, social and environmental impacts”.
Tourism is a strategic sector for many countries in the Americas, representing a significant amount of the world’s tourism revenue that has been growing in recent years. Tourism goods and services – direct, indirect and inducted– represented 9% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); 1 in 11 jobs, and accounted for US$1,075 billion in international receipts worldwide in 2013. Data from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) indicate that in 2013, the Americas received 168 million international arrivals or 15% of worldwide arrivals. International tourism receipts in the region were US$229 billion, or 20% of total worldwide tourism receipts.
With the participation of delegations from 23 member states, this high-level meeting is part of the sustained sectorial policy dialogue supported by the OAS, and provides an opportunity for governments, the private sector and international organizations to exchange experiences and good practices for tourism development. During the last three years, previous Inter-American Congresses of Ministers and High Authorities of Tourism have also focused on tourism sustainability, demonstrating an ongoing regional concern as Member States explore ways to support tourism for socio-economic development while mitigating its potential for negative environmental impact.
On its first day of deliberations, the discussion focused on two main issues critical to advancing tourism sustainability: Measuring competitiveness, price versus non-price factors in tourism; and the importance of tourism infrastructure. Panelists included representatives from tourism authorities from the governments of Barbados, Mexico, the Bahamas, Ecuador and Brazil; who were joined by experts from international agencies such as the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC); the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) and Gallup Organization.
The high-level dialogue will continue tomorrow, September 4, and will conclude with the adoption of a joint Declaration that has been negotiated by member states. The Declaration will serve to guide regional cooperation and the Organization’s work in the area of tourism.