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Since the 3rd ACS Summit in Margarita Island, Venezuela, in December 2001, the ACS has been consolidating its programme of cooperation in specific areas where it can make a difference. Establishment of the Sustainable Tourism Zone of the Caribbean (STZC) is one initiative where a consensus has been built through careful negotiation and technical work over the last six years.
The STZC Convention signed at last year’s Summit provides a broad legal framework for the development of the Zone. But the work has only just begun. The Convention needs to be ratified and brought into force.
Even more important, the principal stakeholders in tourism-hotels, airlines, local communities, the media, and government agencies-need to take ownership of the Convention and its strategies. Only they can put flesh and blood on the legal bones.
The annual conference of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) in the Bahamas in October provided an opportunity for ACS officials to develop joint initiatives with key players in the industry. The ACS is now collaborating with the CTO in planning the 2003 Caribbean Sustainable Tourism Conference.
Another joint ACS-CTO project is the development of multi-destination tourism packages targeted at the intra-Caribbean market and the Caribbean Diaspora in the developed countries. ACS and CTO officials worked the World Travel Market global convention in London earlier this month and stimulated considerable interest in the development of such packages.
The Regional Council of Martinique is providing assistance to the ACS for this project as its contribution to the development of sustainable tourism in the region.
All this requires improved intra-Caribbean air links, especially to serve the “new and emerging” smaller destinations. Member states of the ACS have negotiated a draft Air Transport Agreement that will be discussed at the Belize Ministerial meeting. But several leading regional countries have reserved their position on `Fifth Freedom Rights’ - the rights to traffic between third countries. They prefer to reserve this area for bilateral negotiations.
ACS officials fear that this will rob the regional agreement of its effectiveness. The challenge is to give up some short-term negotiating advantages in return for creating a framework within which airlines will be encouraged to be innovative in route development within the region, forging new linkages with hotels and tour operators.
At the Belize meeting, the host country will lead a Ministerial dialogue on Human Security and Sustainable Development in the Caribbean Sea area. Panama will also make a presentation on the movement of hazardous substances through the Canal. Both are of vital interest to the region. The recent massive oil spill off the Spanish coast has brought home the vulnerability of shared eco-systems to maritime accidents of one kind or another.
The ACS is collaborating with the ECLAC Office for the Caribbean and UNEP in helping regional countries advance the proposal for the United Nations to recognise the Caribbean Sea as a Special Area in the context of sustainable development. The Belize meeting will provide a further political impetus to this initiative.