Grenada tourism minister opening address: Rallying call for the nation

The new Grenada marketing initiative, Pure Grenada, is becoming a rallying call for the nation, the Grenada Tourism Minister, Alexandra Otway-Noel, said today at the opening of the 1st Caribbean Innov

Grenada tourism minister opening address: Rallying call for the nation

The new Grenada marketing initiative, Pure Grenada, is becoming a rallying call for the nation, the Grenada Tourism Minister, Alexandra Otway-Noel, said today at the opening of the 1st Caribbean Innovators Symposium on Coastal Tourism at the Grenadian by Rex, just outside St. George’s today.

“Welcome to Pure Grenada! The SPICE of the Caribbean!

I feel honoured to be here with you today at the Third Symposium for Innovators in Coastal Tourism. Because as Minister for Tourism and Civil Aviation I am pleased that Grenada’s tourism industry is an emerging success story for innovative tourism. So relax and enjoy, because this is a great story I have to tell you:

‘Pure’ Grenada is a tri-island state with three distinct communities and cultures.

Grenada, as you can see is picturesque, with a prestine rainforest, unspoilt beaches, exceptional/national geographic rated diving, a historic fortification system, marine protected areas and friendly people.

Carriacou is a 13 square mile island with approximately 6000 residents, nestled in a ring of coral reefs. Petit Martinique pierces out from the ocean like the lost cone of a volcano that she is – home to a small seafaring community who are more independent than you can imagine – simply because of their size and relative isolation to the rest of the world. In these islands, children learn to sail boats made by their relatives and do many of the things most cultures in the world have forgotten how to do; such as raising their own food, building their own homes, making their own music, and caring for each other in good times and bad. The people of our sister isles are fiercely independent and resilient. They hold on to the vestiges of the culture brought to the Caribbean from Africa and France expressed in the local dialect, as well as the English influence performed in the most unique renditions of Shakespeare you’ll ever see.

We are Pure Grenada because we want to celebrate and preserve this culture rather than destroy it.

Did you know there are actually multiple islands in Grenada? And since only 3 have developed settlements on them you can imagine why our yachting community rightfully boasts of our superior cruising grounds as an added bonus to the amazing yacht services we provide! Our yachting community is working hand in hand with our fisheries department and the Marine Protected Area Management Authorities to reduce the impacts of yachts in marine protected areas, and they, together with the diving community are wholly committed to the preservation of our marine environment.

Pure Grenada is also home to several low-impact, environmentally sensitive boutique resorts. We are blessed to have small hotels where the hotel owner knows your name and cares enough about you to make you want to return, again and again. Our small business operators invest in their staff; engage in community development, waste diversion activities, desalination, glass recycling, and more.
They have a deep rooted conviction in Grenada becoming a premium tourism product and have showed resilience throughout – in challenging and in good times.

As a community they are working together to reduce their carbon footprint and funding for investing in energy for 20 properties is beginning thanks to the tireless efforts of the Hotel Sector, and the CARICOM development Fund. Naturally we expect many more similar projects to follow. The pressure is on my friends! You’ve set the bar high!

We are getting ready to strengthen the linkages between tourism and agriculture, communities and business. In the Ministry of Finance, the Government of Grenada is using a soft loan from the Market Access and Rural Enterprise Development Programme (MAREP) to provide development opportunities to the most vulnerable people in our society.

Pure Grenada is becoming a rallying call for this nation, and this project has taken on a commitment to provide training in climate smart farming practices such as permaculture as well as supporting access to developing environmental standards and eco-certifications. I believe many of you may have visited the Belmont Estate yesterday and had the experience of a agro-tourism facility.

I am sure you liked what you saw. We are very proud of Belmont Estate.
Clearly in Grenada it is not business as usual.

After 10 years of no growth in visitor arrivals; nearly 50% of our hotels reported a significant risk of closure by 2015, if something significant didn’t change. Seems like a daunting task doesn’t it? Saving 50% of the country’s hotel sector in a period of structural adjustment?

Let me tell you it was time to shake things up around here.
So my Ministry got together with the private sector: yachting, diving and of course hotels and with the input of a Compete Caribbean Consultant we asked the question – “What is our value proposition?”. Since we have been thinking the very same thing and were planning a re-branding exercise, a partnership was formed between my Ministry and the Tourism Sector to set about finding answers.

This required knowing who we are,

What we have and how we compare with everyone else.

The Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation and the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association, agreed to work together to define Grenada’s value proposition. To their credit, the GHTA has attracted over USD$800,000 in grant funds from Compete Caribbean and the CARICOM Development Fund to support this marketing initiative and to make their hotels greener through improved energy efficiency.

We hosted a two-day exercise to examine and define what assets give us our competitive advantage and what methods we should use to occupy our rightful space in the global marketplace.

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Ladies and Gentlemen there has never been an exercise like this undertaken in Grenada before. In addition to engaging over 30 local stakeholders, the exercise was facilitated by international VIP’s who generously donated their time and expertise to support Grenada.
Asking the big questions about who you are and who you want to be can be challenging at the best of times, so we recruited some highly skilled professionals whose names you might be familiar with – like Martha Honey – who has just spoken with us here this evening. We also benefitted from the marketing experience of Russ Jarman Price who serves as the Chairman of Caribbean arm of one of the largest marketing firms in the world; Inglefield Ogilvy Mather. Most of you have probably seen the Grenada Survivorman episodes with Les Stroud on the Discovery Network; and I am pleased to say that they fell in love with Grenada: So they returned to help us too. We also benefitted from some education from Jonathan Tourtellot, the man who created the concept of Geotourism and after listening to them all and taking a good, hard look at what we have to offer, we agreed that we needed to develop tourism that:

will sustain or enhance the geographical character of Grenada, Carriacou and Petite Martinique —our environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage, and the well-being of our residents.

But the first and biggest challenge is to show our fellow Grenadians how much we take for granted. How special we are to live without crowds, polluted air, noise, and all the things people who go on holidays want to get away from.

Our second greatest challenge is learning how to do it better ourselves – Being Pure begins with valuing ourselves. And staying pure begins with committing to improvement. This is why I was thrilled when CREST and the CTO offered to host the 3rd Symposium for Coastal Innovators in Grenada, because the timing to impart the kind of knowledge that will be shared here over the next two days, is perfect.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am so pleased to tell you that I believe in the power of what we have done and if we apply what we learn here we will achieve even more. Through strategic partnerships, targeted investments, and a commitment shared by the public and private sector alike we could be remarkable.

After 10 years……10 full years of no growth in visitor arrivals….

I am pleased to assure you that without a shadow of a doubt that we are on the right track. We may have a country with an unemployment rate soaring near 40%, and we may just been forced to raise takes when we wanted to lower them, and we may have just begun a structural adjustment programme……but that didn’t stop us….

We have had a 12% increase in cruise ship arrivals in 2014. We have seen a 37% increase in our Canadian Market, and 18.51% increase in our European Market, and a 20.5% increase in our US Market.
Now is the time for us to apply ourselves – to learn about eco-certifications, about how big hotel chains have done it right. We will benefit from learning about how linkages are formed between tourism and agriculture, and how communities have benefitted in ways we haven’t imagined yet. We can learn about how to pursue development, create jobs and reach our goals. Yes, we need more flagship developments like Sandals resorts and Port Louis to provide us with a strong foundation for more indigenous growth. I want to assure you there will be more to come. We are deliberately targeting quality investments so that our growth is characterized more by high standard over quantity because we know that a Grenada over-run with mass tourism is not what we want.

We want to find a balance between the two – growth and preservation and I invite you to join in and help us.

Here I must recognize His Excellency, Dr. Angus Friday, Grenada’s Ambassador to United States of America, for he was instrumental in placing Grenada as a leader in the Alliance of Small Island States, in his previous incarnation at the United Nations. He continues to demonstrate a commitment to the climate agenda and he is doing his part to reduce gas emissions by riding his bike to work on the busy streets of Washington, D.C.

Before closing, I need to extend thanks to all the people who have helped us thus far with this conference. With rebuilding our tourism sector and recognizing Pure Grenada the Spice of the Caribbean as a formidable player in the sustainable tourism sector. It’s a very long list of dear and committed people who have developed a love for this beautiful country. Tourism is really everybody’s business!
To start, I must thank Martha and her team from CREST as well as Sylma and her team from the CTO for bringing this conference to Grenada. I am quite sure this event will mark a milestone in our development and hopefully in the development of our neighbours too – and we are very aware that this conference would not have been possible without you.

I want to thank the GTA and the GHTA who are our local organizing secretariat for showing how public private partnership should work by organizing this big event together. I know you have invested months of your time and forged valuable relationships along the way to make it possible.

I am saying very special thanks to Mrs. Jennifer Alexis for leading the local secretariat for this conference and for educating so many people about the possibilities sustainable tourism hold for our nation. She has dedicated herself to this mission and has been a driving force since day one. Jennifer’s energy and commitment is so appreciated and the results show. Mrs. Nikoyan Roberts and Mrs. Christine Horsford for their commitment and perseverance.

I want to thank the Dive Association, the Yachting Association and the Grenada Hotel and Tourism Association for being so professional and proactive to raise funds and develop projects that position us for success. I want to thank Compete Caribbean, GIZ, the Nature Conservancy and all the donors that have invested in us and our ambitions – We are innovators and trust me – we will be an example to follow!

Our private sector believes in the vision and have shown by their support and collaboration and will be continued nourishment for development and success.

We are innovators and want to set the standard.

Indeed I want to welcome you all and wish you a successful conference. We are confident that your presence here with us will motivate us to keep achieving as well as help us to continue to learn how to manage our fragile environment.

Now I would like to introduce a video that was done by the Survivorman himself Les Stroud so you can visually appreciate our journey and our destination.

Thank you very much.”

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