By Alexander Britell
PARADISE ISLAND — Travel and tourism is essential to the Caribbean, and after last year’s storms, revitalizing the industry is more important than ever.
That was the message by former United States President Bill Clinton on Wednesday when he addressed the delegates at the Caribbean Tourism Organization’s State of the Industry Conference in Nassau via video.
“I know I don’t need to tell you what a critical role travel and tourism plays in the Caribbean,” Clinton said, pointing to tourism’s 15 percent share of regional gross domestic product, a number that is even higher in some countries.
After last year’s pair of severe hurricanes, it’s even more important to ensure that this industry is strengthened, he said.
“Rejuvenating the industry and bringing people back to those beautiful islands is absolutely essential to the ongoing efforts to build back better,” Clinton said.
Clinton’s global foundation is currently working with the Caribbean Tourism Organization on joint efforts to help showcase the Caribbean’s culture, biodiversity, arts and food, Clinton said.
‘I want to urge you to continue to expand this crucial work,” he said.
In his post-White House career, Clinton has very much become an advocate for the Caribbean, from his longtime work in Haiti to a more recent push to urge the region to develop its green energy sector, like recent solar project launches in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Clinton is of course no stranger to tourism in the Caribbean; in 2011, the Clinton Foundation facilitated the signing of both a development and operating agreement for the Marriott Port-au-Prince in Haiti, arguably the country’s leading hotel, which made its debut in 2015.
In April, Clinton launched a multifaceted effort to spearhead recovery efforts on islands impacted by Hurricanes Irma and Maria called the Clinton Global Initiative Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery.
“I was struck by the resilience and the sense of community among people in the Caribbean,” Clinton said of his time visiting the region this year. “We’ve made a lot of progress, and there is so much more to be done.”
“As time goes on we can’t forget our commitment to revitalize the tourism industry, and, in so doing, to guide the region to a stronger, safer, more sustainable future,” Clinton said.
The State of the Industry conference, which brings together tourism stakeholders from around the Caribbean, is one of the region’s leading tourism gatherings.