Wednesday, January 26, 2005

A NOTE: last week, the Let's Talk radio programme broke the news in Montserrat that Winair, the carrier chosen to have the temporary monopoly on the new airstrip has been in serious financial woes, indeed had gone bankrupt and was being reorganised. Monday afternoon, we learned thast this Wed., the Let's Talk slot will be pre-empted by a Government broadcast on the status of the airport project. We encourage our listeners and readers to participate. In the meanwhile, here is the text for a speech to the Montserrat Tour and Taxi Association.

The Montserrat Tour & Taxi Association:
The "logistics" of tourism

GEM 05:01:17a

Madam President, Members, etc.:

INTRO: I have been asked to briefly discuss the "logistics" of tourism in Montserrat, with a special view to potential opportunities facing tour and taxi operators. This of course comes in the context of (1) the opportunities presented by the ongoing volcano eruption, as the only live volcano in the premier cruise tourism destination, the Caribbean, and (2) the proposed Little Bay port and town development project. Thus, our discussion tonight naturally needs to engage: (a) the raw potential for a substantial cruise ship tourism market, (b) the required infrastructure developments to facilitate the market, (c) the promotion and affordability concerns, and (d) resulting opportunities and challenges for tour and taxi operators. So, now, let us proceed.

A] BACKGROUND: Tourism and travel, together, are the biggest export industry – and the fastest growing economic sector -- in the world. For instance, according to the World Tourism Organisation, in 2000, 698 million people visited a foreign country, spending US$ 478 billions, or US$ 685 per tourist, "making tourism the world's number one export earner, ahead of automotive products, chemicals, petroleum and food," while employing some 7% of the global workforce.

Here in the Caribbean, the World Travel and Tourism Council reports that "[I]n 1998,direct and indirect GDP [Gross Domestic Product, roughly speaking: how much was earned by all the people in a country in a given year] from travel and tourism was over US$28 billion, accounting for about 25 percent of the region’s total GDP . . . and is expected to reach over US$48 billion by 2005 (WTTC and WEFA 1999)." Consequently, "travel and tourism provided over 2.9 million jobs in 1998 (more than 25 percent of total employment); this number is expected to grow to over 3.3 million (27 percent of total) by 2005." For instance, in 1997, 18.8 million tourists visited us (mostly from North America and Europe), and spent US$ 861/visit, or ~ US$ 16 billions. (These trends continued into the early 2000’s, with a temporary dip due to the 9/11 attacks and the associated global recession. But now, growth is back on track and by 2006/7 the number of tourists visiting the region could climb to over 25 millions. 4.5% is a reasonable estimate for growth of the industry over the decade.)

In short, the region is roughly four times as dependent on tourism and travel than the "average" for the world, and creates about ¼ of its annual income from this industry. We are now a tourism region, not an agriculture region. No wonder, then, that the Caribbean Tourism organisation reports that "Most of the countries [in the region] with relatively high per
capita GDP have a high percentage (more than 30 percent) of GDP derived from [tourism]."
Cruise ship tourism is an increasingly important part of the region’s tourism product, so let us now turn to it.

B] CRUISE SHIP TOURISM: It can be argued that cruise ships are a significant competition to our region’s hotels, and significantly contribute to environmental challenges. But, this sector is increasingly important to our region: So, by 1998, "71 cruise ships (which can carry over 93,000 passengers) from 24 lines plied the Caribbean, some year-round and some seasonally," and of nearly 9 million cruise ship tourists worldwide in 1999, over 3.8 millions cruised in the Caribbean, which is close to North America and therefore fits in well with the short vacation cruise model favoured by this emerging mass market.

A measure of our market potential is the fact that, even with 6.5 – 7 million passengers per year in 1999 – 2000, "only 11% of North Americans have ever set sail and cruising [had attracted] only 2% of the entire leisure travel industry." In short, there is "an extraordinary growth potential for this industry."

Other Caribbean countries have been quick to take advantage of this opportunity. For instance, a recent report observes: "[w]hen banana farming fell off in the late 1990s, the government of St. Lucia began creating incentives to push its tourism and banking sectors. Today agriculture represents only 7.9 percent of the gross domestic product, while services account for 72.5 percent and industry 19.6 percent . . . . Close to 380 cruise ships make port calls each year and account for 60 percent of tourist arrivals [and though] cruise passengers tend to spend small amounts of time [< 1 day] and money [~US $ 50] during visits, statistics reveal that they are likely to return for a longer vacation."

This reflects a trend where up to the 1970’s, a 20,000 ton, 800 passenger boat was a big one; then in the early 1980’s this moved to 70,000 ton, 2,0000 passenger vessels, until now, the latest class of 138,000 ton ships launched by Royal Caribbean Lines exceeds 1,000 feet in length, and has space for 3,000+ passengers and nearly 2,000 crew.

These factors, coupled to Montserrat’s unique situation of having a live volcanic eruption "in progress," suggest:

C] A SIGNIFICANT MARKET OPPORTUNITY: While the volcano crisis has brought us much dislocation, it has also opened the door for a significant nature-in-action tourism opportunity. Obviously, with a 600 metre, "temporary" air strip, that opportunity has to focus on cruise shipping; so, we need to focus on the development proposals for Little Bay.
These proposals have raised several possibilities: a marina – we are roughly half way between the Virgin Islands and the Grenadines – as well as a Cricket complex, a Cultural Complex [currently under construction], a housing development, some handy shopping arcades, and a Container Port and a Cruise-ship-ready pier, with a facility for tour buses and taxis. It is projected that up to 100,000 visitors per year could be accommodated: ambitious but not impossible, given the numbers already achieved by St Lucia and the underlying market potential and trends.

What would such numbers mean?

100,000 visitors per year is 2,000 per week, what one large vessel or several smaller ones would carry. Thus, we might be looking at 2 – 3 cruise ships per week, and maybe up to 600 – 800 passengers [and it may be a good idea here to embed the price of a volcano island tour into the cruise package!]. That would reasonably require 20 to 30 or even 40 tour buses, depending on capacity. 30 such buses would in turn require 30 round trips on our main road (all at nearly the same time), and our visitors centres and points of interest would also need to be able to accommodate that many busloads of tourists at once. This also holds for HM Immigration and Customs.

These amount to a tall order, so now, let us consider:

D] OPPORTUNITIES, CHALLENGES & CONCERNS: Clearly, 100,000 cruise ship visitors per year constitutes a feasible but challenging target. But, to begin to access it, we will need to have a Cruise Ship pier capable of accommodating the ships that would carry the tourists. (I am informed that such a pier, too, could facilitate roll-on, roll-off container cargo – especially if there are designated cargo and cruise days; but, we should note that in many islands, such as Antigua, the two types of facilities are kept separate.)

Similarly, we would have to invest in developing and promoting the Volcano Park and other activity and interest sites that would be capable of absorbing the associated numbers – and at prices that are competitive, given the point that cruise ship visitors probably will not spend more than US$ 50 - 100 out of pocket in any one port. Further, the resulting market should have reasonably expected returns on the investment that will have to be attractive relative to their degree of risk.

But, given the trends in the world and region, we have to think seriously about them: for the foreseeable future, tourism is the Caribbean’s number one industry, and we need to be a credible player in it. And, Little Bay is plainly the key alternative to beat if we are to our be able to enter that market. So, let us conclude with some pointed questions:

If not now, then when will we begin to develop a credible tourism sector?

If it is not to be based in Little Bay, then where – and, why?

If not us, then who?

So, now, let’s talk . . .


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Rebuilding of Montserrat, 4:
Except the Lord Build the House . . .
GEM 05:01:17

The key lesson of the past decade – a nightmarish time in which we have struggled in the face of the ongoing volcanic crisis, the loss of much of our territory and infrastructure, de-population, fear and denial of painful reality, lack of consensus and vision, economic slowdown, and a devastating breakdown of morals and community spirit in high places as well as low – is that the time for "business as [nearly] usual" is over.

So, where can we turn, to find a truly sustainable development path?

Psalm 127:1 answers: "Except the LORD build the house, they labour in vain that build it . . ." For, our national rebuilding challenge is not only a matter of physical devastation and resulting dislocation, but it is also a spiritual crisis, one that reflects the wider moral disintegration and intellectual bankruptcy of Western culture; which has spurned the God of the Bible over the past hundred years, only to end up so confused that it is no longer confident that truth or right are anything more than mere rhetorical fantasies created by deceptive power elites.
Montserrat is not immune to this decay. That is the clear lesson of: (1) the recent revelation that 70% of our secondary school children are sexually active [in the age of the global HIV pandemic!], (2) the strong insistence in some quarters on the plainly immoral proposal to try to base our economic future on gambling, and (3) the looming tidal wave of scandals over reported mis-management of various rebuilding projects.

Paul is ever so relevant: "the Gentiles . . . are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts Having lost all [moral] sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. You, however, did not come to know Christ that way . . . You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness." [Eph 4:17 – 24.]

How, then, can we find a way to rebuild Montserrat under God’s blessing?

Nehemiah -- God’s rebuilder -- provides a time-tested answer, through a classic management case study that teaches us how to restore a nation in the teeth of daunting challenges and determined, unscrupulous opposition:

1] Learning of the broken down walls of Jerusalem, he was concerned. So he penitently prayed then tactfully approached a key powerbroker, the king of Persia. Thus, Nehemiah obtained backing and necessary resources before opponents could block the effort. [Ch 1.]

2] In Jerusalem, he quietly surveyed the wall then called the people and their leaders together in a solemn assembly, giving them hope and a vision: let us arise and build! [Ch 2.]
He then organised the project, delegating manageable tasks to specific groups and their leaders. [Ch 3.]

3] As the project went on, challenges, opposition, threats, slanders and crises arose; but Nehemiah could safely stand on his strengths and so he handled the crises, and attacks firmly -- while making sure he was not distracted from the main task in hand. [Chs 4 - 6.]
When the wall-rebuilding project was finished -- in 52 days! -- time was set apart for celebration and worship, with the help of Ezra, a recognised and respected spiritual leader. Revival broke out. [Ch 6:15 - 7:5, 8:1- 11, & 8:13 - 9:38.]

4] The project and initial wave of revival then triggered waves of national renewal, empowerment, reformation, transformation and liberation that continued for centuries. [Chs 8 - 13.]

Here in Montserrat, we too need to pause and pray, repenting of our sins and seeking wisdom and opportunities for God-blessed rebuilding. So, let us come together as a people in times of prayer, solemn assembly and consultation before God. Then, we can host a forum on the future to identify a cluster of key projects that can serve as a beginning for rebuilding not only our infrastructure and institutions, but also our community. Then, we can create a broad, community-based NGO to coordinate the projects. And, as we undertake the initial wave of projects, we will build capacity, community and confidence that open the door to even greater successes to follow.

So, let us ask: "why not now, why not here, why not us?" AMEN

Monday, January 03, 2005


Tragedy & Hope:
Responding to -- & learning from – The Boxing Day Tsunami

GEM 045:01:02

On Boxing Day, the world learned of a truly horrific natural disaster, due to a 9.0 Magnitude earthquake off Indonesia; which triggered tsunami [“tidal”] waves that moved across the Indian Ocean at speeds of up to 500 mph, inundating shorelines from Sumatra to Somalia, and leading to a death toll that has now mounted well in excess of 100,000 lives.

In the days since that event, a global response has been initiated, and a massive aid effort is under way. Here in Montserrat, it is currently proposed that an Account be set up at the Royal Bank in Brades, downstairs the Red Cross Building; so that we can join together to give generously to others in their need, even as we have been given to in our need over the past decade. Let us also remember the victims -- especially the traumatized children -- in our prayers.

We must also learn and heed a vital lesson: sadly, here was no warning for those on the shoreline, because no regional warning network was in place in one of the most seismically active regions of the world. Also, even in Thailand (which participates in the Pacific Tsunami network – the only fully functioning large-scale system in the world), there was not a quick response to the warning issued by that Hawaii-based network fifteen minutes after the earthquake (which was then thought to be Mag. 8.0 – i.e. 1/10 its actual scale, and had been evaluated as posing no tsunami threat to the PACIFIC – as opposed to Indian Ocean – basin). If warning had been given, except for Aceh province, where the lead time was very short indeed, millions of people could literally have walked away from the threatened coastal zone.

So, now, there are calls to set up a global tsunami network, now that over 100,000 people have paid with their lives.

Here in the Caribbean, CDERA, the regional disaster response agency, is again urgently calling for extending the existing Puerto-Rico and USVI tsunami warning net across the region; for, we too are living in a very seismically active region, but have not hitherto been able to prioritise and fund such a network. This is a significant concern, for, as much as a decade ago, a research paper was published that explored the scenario of a Krakatoa-scale explosion of Kick ‘em Jenny, the very active undersea volcano off NW Grenada: within five minutes, a 150 ft wall of water could hit northern Grenada. Over the next ninety minutes, the rest of the EC could see waves of up to 50 – 90 ft: two to three times as high as those that have just devastated the Indian Ocean’s coastlines.

Jamaica’s South coast would be perhaps three hours away for such a wave. Nor is its North Coast “safe”: that coast is vulnerable to earthquake-triggered waves from the highly seismically active Cayman Trench; which would also threaten the Cayman Islands, Haiti, Cuba, and Belize and its neighbouring Central American countries. Guyana, too, is vulnerable, with many low-lying, heavily populated coastal areas. Puerto Rico has suffered five significant tsunami events in recorded history and has off its North coast a deposit from a huge undersea landslip. The region is also exposed to the Atlantic Basin threat from a volcano in the Canary Islands that is threatening to collapse and trigger a massive landslide into the sea.

Why, then, has there been so little action to date?

First, because such a warning network would cost many millions of dollars to create (and even more to run from year to year for many decades – most of the time, with no obvious benefits!), and because tsunamis and similar events are relatively rare. So, given human frailties, many other urgent issues take priority and the tectonic hazards faced by the region are often simply forgotten. (Even in the case of hurricanes, which are far more frequent in our region, people rapidly forget the lessons from the last big strike and become careless.) Also, it is only over the past decade or so that the scientists have become confident that they can reliably predict the amplitude of tsunamis: there are notorious reports of official warnings being issued for waves that did in fact arrive when predicted – but they were only six inches or so high.

No wonder it has been so hard to create and sustain the long-term mass support and resulting political will to act -- until now that over 100,000 people have paid with their lives.

Unfortunately, this pattern is all too familiar. What are we in Montserrat doing about the long-term trends with our Soufriere Hills Volcano? What about the region’s vulnerability to extreme weather events, as was demonstrated by Hurricane Ivan just a few months ago? Have we really thought about the implications of the successful Uganda ABC model for fighting AIDS: Abstinence first of all; Being Faithful to one’s spouse; only then, Condoms? [What are the implications of the recently reported statistics that 70% of the students in the MSS are sexually active – in a country with well over 80% attachment to the various churches?] Are we investing in the education system, business incubators and transparent government and governance culture that are desperately needed for us to be competitive in the emerging global age? And, more . . .

So, now, we too plainly need to act: let’s talk, let’s pray . . . and let’s give generously. AMEN