Ladies & gentlemen,

At the outset, allow me to welcome his Excellency, Mr. Taleb Rifai, Secretary-General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) to New York and thank him for graciously affording his time to be with us this afternoon and to share his perspectives on the work of UNWTO and its support for SIDS.

Let me also thank Ambassador Dessima Williams for availing herself to participate in this afternoon’s discussions. 

As you will no doubt note, all the components of the theme we are discussing today, i.e tourism, biodiversity and culture have been identified and recognized as priority areas for SIDS.  To a certain extent SIDS are already embarking upon measures, including policy measures, that pull the various strands of these components together. 

And in many ways they are already doing so within a green economy or sustainable development context. 

 But these measures, many of them SIDS driven, need the continued support of the international community. 

International support for SIDS in the development of their tourism sector remains a priority because while tourism is widely recognized as a vital industry for SIDS in their pursuit towards economic development and the attainment of sustainable development goals, the need to properly plan and manage the industry in SIDS, as recognized in the 1994 Barbados Programme of the Action for the sustainable development of SIDS and its 2005 MSI, is an undertaking that is best shouldered through enhanced partnership between SIDS and the international community.

For SIDS the tourism, biodiversity and culture nexus is not an abstract concept.  These linkages, with its challenges and complexities reflect the reality that is often played out on a daily basis by various actors and stakeholders, including policy makers, private sector businesses, civil society and resource owners in SIDS.

Indicators from the period prior to the global economic and financial crisis suggested that the international tourism receipts as percentage of exports in the SIDS had averaged some 40.1% in 2007 and was at that time trending on an upward trajectory, having increased from 35.5% in 2003.

However, the need to balance this important industry and the activities associated with it with the need to protect SIDS unique environment continues to be a concern for SIDS.  Environmental degradation, particularly that of the SIDS marine and coastal zones, due to activities associated with the tourism industry, have placed coastal ecosystems under significant and at times overwhelming pressure.  

SIDS continue to demonstrate leadership in the field of environmental protection and conservation.  By 2008, SIDS, recognizing the fragility of their vulnerable island biodiversity, designated a collective average of some 14.6% of their total terrestrial areas and some 3.9% of their collective marine space as protected areas. 

The unique cultures of SIDS continue to play an important role in fuelling the growth of the tourism in SIDS by generating demand for cultural tourism.  Estimates have suggested that 37% of all international travel have a cultural element. For SIDS, cultural tourism is an effective means by which to generate national, regional and international appreciation of indigenous island arts and popular culture as well as support the strengthening of cultural industries and enhancing local cultural confidence.       

The facts are undeniable:  1. The SIDS tourism sector is vital for SIDS economic growth but the need to balance this with environmental considerations is essential; 2. SIDS are playing a leadership role in biodiversity conservation efforts; 3. The potential for SIDS cultural tourism remains great;  4. And SIDS will continue to count on the support of the international community in complementing their own efforts.

It is my hope that the discussions today on the SIDS Tourism, Biodiversity and Culture Nexus in the Context of the Green Economy will contribute towards crystallising what ‘a green economy’ might entail for SIDS in the important tourism sector.  

As we march on toward the Rio+20 Conference next June, 2012, I am mindful of the high regard SIDS place on the Rio+20 process, given the fact that the “special case” for SIDS in terms of their environment and development was first recognized back in Rio in 1992. 

I am confident that our discussion today will contribute, in a small way, to the continued dialogue leading up to next June.

I look forward to rich discussions today and beyond on the issues at hand.

I thank you for your kind attention.