Assistant Secretary General Speech


January 29, 2019 - Jamaica

Álvaro Uribe Vélez, Former President of Colombia
Minister the Hon. Edmund Bartlett, CD, MP. Minister of Tourism for Jamaica and Founder of Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre
Minister the Hon. Audley Shaw, CD, MP, Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture & Fisheries, Jamaica
Mr. Jaime Cabal, Deputy Secretary-General, United National World Tourism Organization
Other invited guests
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A pleasant Good Morning,

It is my distinct pleasure to offer greetings at the opening of the UNWTO and Government of Jamaica Global Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Small and Medium Tourism Enterprises (SMTEs). First and foremost, I wish to highlight the important leadership role played by the Government of Jamaica in advancing the cause for the tourism sector as a driver of jobs and growth through the holding of fora such as this conference.

There is now broad acceptance that travel and tourism have the potential to contribute directly or indirectly to all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), in particular to foster economic growth and create jobs throughout the world to meet Goal #1 which is, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere.” Moreover, tourism has been included as a specific target in Goals #8, #12 and #14 on inclusive and sustainable economic growth, sustainable consumption and production and the sustainable use of oceans and marine resources.

The statistics are now well known – as one of the world’s largest economic sectors, Travel & Tourism creates jobs, drives exports, and generates prosperity accounting for 10.4% of global GDP and 313 million jobs, or 9.9% of total employment, in 2017.

This conference builds on the successful precursor Conference held in November 2017 which focused on Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism and which the OAS Secretary General addressed. In his statement, he noted that tourism is the life blood for Caribbean countries and indeed many other countries in the Americas and emphasized its role in generating more economic opportunities for vulnerable groups that otherwise may fall back into poverty.

Today’s event is aptly focused on the role of small and medium sized enterprises in the tourism sector or SMTEs as they remain the backbone of the tourism sector in many regions of the world but particularly so in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Promotion of SME’s, entrepreneurship and generation of economic opportunities have been and remain consistent priorities under the Integral Development Pillar of the OAS. Support for tourism SMEs in particular, is an area in which the OAS has had a long and successful track record. Some of the more recent efforts include a program of assistance principally focused on capacity building in the small accommodations sub-sector in the Caribbean and strengthening umbrella institutions for small hotels in the Central and South American sub-regions. The OAS therefore applauds the theme chosen for this Conference.

The Montego Bay Declaration on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, which emanated from the November 2017 Conference, declared inter alia, “National governments, local authorities, private sector financing institutions and relevant stakeholders shall promote innovative tourism development models which fully engage, integrate and empower communities, create decent jobs and eliminate any barriers between communities and tourism developers”. I believe that this conference today will utilize this opportunity to examine and promote innovative ways in which SMTEs can embrace innovation.

With respect to innovation, we now have clear examples of how Travel & Tourism is currently embracing Artificial Intelligence (AI). We know that online travel agents like Expedia are actively exploring using AI for customer service, and launched a chat tool that automates online trip searches. Similarly, brand hotels are beginning to utilize chatbots who can assist guests at check-in and advise them on local attractions and things to do.

The manner in which SMTEs are able to embrace some of these innovations will become an important challenge going forward. Artificial intelligence is expensive to develop and adopt. This may mean that large firms, who have financial resources, will be at the forefront of these developments and smaller counterparts may be left behind.

I am pleased to announce that as part of the OAS’ continued support for tourism SMEs, during the final session of today’s program the OAS will be introducing a project dedicated to the Caribbean but which will have clear transferrable lessons for other parts of the region. The project - Building the Resilience of Small Tourism Enterprises in the Caribbean - aims to assist small tourism enterprises in the Caribbean to overcome the macro and micro level challenges that affect business continuity during and after catastrophic events. And the choice of project is no coincidence as the Caribbean is still reeling from the onslaught of catastrophic hurricanes that wreaked destruction and pain in the region in the last couple of years. Unfortunately, the realities of climate change and its implications for our economies and the security of our States compel us to expect more of these types of catastrophes and so we must prepare. The OAS will be a committed partner in these preparations all along the way.

I wish to conclude by reiterating the OAS’ continued support towards efforts to enhance the role and contribution of tourism SMEs in the hemisphere’s development. I hope that today’s conference will yield fruitful discussions and contribute towards an even more holistic understanding of the significance of tourism SMEs for social, cultural, economic, and political inclusive growth and development.