“September 27 was recognized around the world as World Tourism Day and this year’s theme is ‘Tourism and Rural Development’. Twenty-twenty though, is not an ordinary year. Despite showing tremendous resilience during these challenging times, the world’s tourism economies ground to a halt, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic from March of this year. Data from the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) shows that 100 to 120 million direct tourism jobs are at risk and the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) forecasts a loss of 1.5 to 2.8 per cent of global GDP. Due to its many touch points, tourism is one of the most labour intensive industries in the world, with the Caribbean being the most tourism-dependent region on the planet.
‘Tourism and Rural Development’ recognizes the unique role that the sector plays in preserving culture and natural heritage, as well as emphasizes the need to create opportunities for the world’s rural communities. Many of the Caribbean islands are fueled by these small communities, almost all of which have been impacted by the closing of their borders, or the restrictions on travel and the movement of people. Over 60 million people visited the region in 2019, spending an estimated US$41 billion, and it is estimated that this would be reduced by over 60 percent in both instances by the end of 2020. Indeed, Montserrat has not been spared from the fallout caused by this scenario and has seen the 14 percent increase in visitor arrivals in 2019, as well as the EC$27 million contribution to the local economy completely wiped out. However, we are an island that has withstood the wrath of volcanic eruptions which occurred in 1995 and 1997, rendering two-thirds of the island as uninhabitable and causing the mass migration of over 60 percent of our population. And although the Soufriere Hills Volcano remains the only active volcano in the Caribbean to this day, this has not deterred us from pursuing a path of sustainable development for our island economy. We were never an island with a large city centre, or one full of coastal resorts however, our hallmark has been the existence of our small, rural communities, each with its own personality and each making its contribution to the development of tourism in its own unique way. We felt therefore, that the theme of Tourism and Rural Development was speaking directly to the Emerald Isle of Montserrat. The advent of the pandemic and the closure of our borders has caused us to look inward even more and as we prepare to position ourselves to once again welcome visitors to our shores, efforts are being made to strengthen our food security and reducing our reliance on importing certain vegetables, ground provisions, fruits and fish. In addition to being in a better position to meet the requirements of the local market, once the tourism engine has re-started, more benefits will accrue to our farmers and fisher-folk.
The UNWTO highlights the fact that the tourism sector’s contribution to job creation is specifically recognized in Goal 8 of the Sustainable Development Goals, part of which states: “By 2030, devise and implement policies to promote sustainable tourism that creates jobs and promotes local culture and products”. The Government of Montserrat, through the Tourism Division, continues to implement its plans of enhancing hiking trails (a key element of our tourism product) and beach facilities as part of the efforts to ensure that our physical product meets or exceeds international standards. Its signature project would be the establishment of a Volcano Interpretive Centre, which will provide an interactive experience for visitors to understand the impact that the Soufriere Hills Volcano has had on the island’s social, cultural and natural history for the last 25 years. This project will be completed by the first quarter of the 2021/2022 financial year, and would provide employment opportunities at the planning and construction stage, while offering a range of service providers improved amenities and facilities to share with visitors to Montserrat.
The Tourism Division has also embarked on a series of training programmes to ensure that the human resource component of the tourism product is kept up to date with the latest trends and has the capacity to deliver quality service in the new environment in which we find ourselves. And lastly, to add a new marketing communications component, a new destination website is about to be launched, making it easier to get information on Montserrat’s sites and attractions, as well as locate the various tourism service providers in the many communities across the island. The website also contains a feature on one of the island’s national heroes and our most famous son of the soil, soca artiste, Alphonsus ‘Arrow’ Cassell, who produced the mega hit, Hot! Hot! Hot! This, in an effort to promote not just our musical history, but also to preserve part of our cultural legacy.
It is said that out of disaster comes opportunity. The Government of Montserrat has therefore risen to the challenge of strengthening its relationship with its partners in tourism to ensure that the local sector is able to continue its development along a sustainable path and be fully prepared to welcome and host visitors to our island in the safe, engaging and friendly environment for which we are well-known.
It is my pleasure to wish all a Happy World Tourism Day”.