STATEMENT BY THE HONOURABLE MARLON A. PENN
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
EIGHTH SITTING OF THE FOURTH SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
TUESDAY, 15th NOVEMBER 2022
TOURISM AND HEALTH PROGRAMME
Madam Speaker, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic we are even more keenly aware of the significant linkages between the health and tourism sectors, and the importance of both sectors to our economy and society. For the tourism industry to be sustainable, it is important to effectively manage any negative health impacts on the Territory, in order to protect both the local population and the industry. Ensuring sustainability is also an essential component of economic development and maintaining and improving the quality of life in small islands.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to say that the Virgin Islands is in a strong position to move forward with preparations that started in 2019 to participate in the Regional Tourism and Health Program (THP), which is designed to address health, safety, and environmental sanitation concerns within the tourism sector. The Programme is being implemented by several countries of the Region with support from the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), in collaboration with the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO).
Madam Speaker, the Tourism and Health Program helps to strengthen the ability of countries to prepare for and respond to public health threats that may be associated with, or originate in the Tourism Sector. It ultimately aims to protect and enhance the health and safety of both locals and visitors, while contributing to local and regional health security, as well as the quality, reputation, and sustainability of Caribbean tourism.
The programme provides regionally and internationally accepted guidelines and standards for traveler health issues in accommodation and passenger ship settings, capacity building in food and hospitality health and safety, and environmental standards and policies in an internationally recognized brand. More specifically, the programme provides for a comprehensive suite of standards in several domains of health related to Tourism. These include:
- Tourism and Health Information System for early warning of public health issues;
- Vessel Surveillance programme;
- Guidelines for managing public health occurrences on vessels and accommodations;
- Capacity building in managing public health issues among tourism stakeholders;
- Regional hospitality safety and environmental standards, including hygiene sanitation and food safety;
- Regional travelers' health policy framework;
- Caribbean Travelers Health Assurance Stamp for Healthier and Safer Tourism;
- Caribbean Traveller's health App to provide information to guests;
- Fostering multi-agency partnerships; and
- Advocacy and access to promotional and training materials.
Madam Speaker, this unique programme uses a multi-faceted cross-sector approach to provide real-time early warning and response, using the Tourism and Health Information System (THiS). The system comprises a comprehensive network of pertinent health information from hospitals, health centres, accommodations, cruiseships, laboratories, media reports, international health and tourism agencies, and public health agencies via the Caribbean Travel Health Network (CATHNET). Together, this multipronged approach stimulates a rapid and coordinated response to public health threats. This is the first integrated programme of its kind, setting an international precedent for improving sustainable tourism and regional health security.
Madam Speaker, despite the disruptions caused by COVID-19 over the past three years, I am happy to say that 930 persons have been trained in the Virgin Islands utilizing a mix of in-person and virtual training. Six facilities and six companies have been fully registered and awarded the Healthier, Safer Tourism (HST) Stamp of approval, which is a measurable and verifiable travellers health assurance and recognition award for tourism entities. The Ministry of Health and the Premier’s Office both recognize the importance of moving this programme forward in order to ensure that this investment bears fruit.
More recently, CARPHA has held sensitization meetings with the Ministry of Health and the BVI Tourist Board to re-acquaint officials with the programme and its benefits. Madam Speaker, we look forward to the formal launch of this programme here in the Virgin Islands, which will present an opportunity to demonstrate high level endorsement of this on-going initiative in both the public and private sectors.
As I close, Madam Speaker, I wish to thank the Caribbean Public Health Agency for its outstanding support to the Territory. I also commend all our public and private sector partners that have been involved in laying the groundwork for this programme, for their foresight in recognizing its potential benefits and contribution to the long-term sustainability of the tourism sector.
Thank you, Madam Speaker.