|Belize Hosts SICA Tourism Forum|
|Written by Shane D, Williams|
|Thursday, 23 September 2010 00:00|
The Central American Integration System (SICA) is the institutional framework of Regional Integration in Central America. SICA was established on December 13, 1991, and Belize became an official member in 2000. Other members include Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Panama. There are also associated states with observatory status like the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Chile, Brazil; the Republic of China (Taiwan), Spain and Germany. The headquarters of the General Secretariat of SICA is in the Republic of El Salvador, but at the moment Belize holds the interim Presidency which is rotated among member countries every six months.
Last weekend Ministers and other representatives of SICA countries were in San Pedro to discuss the future of the most important industry in the region, tourism. Hon. Manuel Heredia Jr., Minister of Tourism, chaired the meeting. The delegation shared that there is reason to celebrate since tourism grew by over four percent in the first half of 2010, but there is much work to be done. The region is facing a very unpredictable opponent in climate change and adaptation measures have been slow to say the least. The region’s tourism industry is largely based on nature and archaeology which are two things greatly threatened by climate change. If effective measures are not adapted soon the region will suffer the consequences of inaction.
The second challenge the region faces is in the area of security and handling crime and violence. Though the Merida Initiative has been effective in hindering the trafficking of drugs across the region, domestic crime and violence has been increasing. The increase in overall crime and violence has not produced an increase in crime against tourism. However, the tourism industry is based on image. A tourist destination is a place where one would think “paradise”. It will be increasingly more difficult to market a destination which struggles with its own security. These are only two of the issues that were on the table at the SICA meetings in San Pedro.
Minister Heredia said that the meetings should result in a clear agenda to move forward. Nelly Jerez, Tourism Minister of Honduras, said that the countries must work together to show what Central America has to offer- “not only what we have, the different destinations, but also what our people mean, the ability of our people, the friendship of our people…” Luis Simo, Assistant Secretary of Tourism, represented the Dominican Republic at the meeting. The Dominican Republic is one of the fastest growing tourism destinations in the Caribbean. While most of the countries in the Caribbean are experiencing setbacks in the tourism industry, tourism in the Dominican Republic continues to grow. Simo says that we need to fully appreciate the value of tourism and make the necessary investments in the industry.
Minister Heredia says that he enjoys a very friendly relationship with the tourism representatives from SICA. He said, “In the recession, we learnt that we have not been focusing on the market right around us. Marketing right here in Central America played a huge role in the growth of tourism this year.”
The group hopes that the meeting will result in more regional marketing and cross tourism.