NEW YORK (October 14, 2010)–The twin island nation of St. Kitts and Nevis will chair the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) for the next two years just as Caribbean tourism begins to recover from the global economic recession.

Following a vote by the CTO’s Council of Ministers in Barbados last week, Richard “Ricky” Skerritt, minister of tourism and international transport for St. Kitts and Nevis, assumed the chairmanship of the tourism organization, succeeding Antigua and Barbuda’s tourism and civil aviation minister, John Maginley.

The vote took place on the eve of the CTO’s first-ever Leadership Strategy Conference, which brought together delegates from more than 30 countries to hear from global tourism leaders and discuss some of the key issues facing this critical sector.

“I am honored to have been elected to serve as the new chairman of the Caribbean Tourism Organization, and I look forward to working with all member countries and stakeholders to accomplish our goals over the course of my term,” said the former Rhodes scholar, who earned a master of science degree from Oxford University.

Minister Skerritt reported that stay over travel is beginning to rebound across the Caribbean, albeit more slowly than predicted from some markets, while cruise tourism has hardly skipped a beat. “However, it’s a different visitor than before who is arriving in the Caribbean,” Skerritt cautioned. “This visitor is more demanding, expecting maximum value for money and is more discerning, seeking a more spiritually fulfilling vacation experience that includes more interaction with local people and a deeper connection with our land and culture. Our visitor also has access to many more warm weather vacation options than ever before.”

Skerritt also warned that while the Caribbean brand is well known throughout the world for pristine beaches, wonderful weather and welcoming people, the region has to deliver service at a world-class level if it is to compete effectively with worldwide destinations.

“To be successful and competitive in this ‘new normal’ environment requires a captivating and safe destination experience, convenient and affordable airlifts, a more sophisticated tourism infrastructure, and a marketing strategy that is carefully targeted, cost-effective and closely aligned with the authentic product offerings of each of our individual destinations,” he said.

A highlight of the conference was an address from British Airways CEO Willie Walsh, who blasted Britain’s air passenger duty tax, which will reach a new peak at the start of next month. The tax increase over the past year has contributed to a double-digit reduction in Caribbean arrivals from Britain.

“This tax…threatens the very fabric of the tourism sector, on which so much of the islands’ economies depend. It threatens jobs and opportunities, and the ability of the islands’ governments to maintain funding levels for the education, health and welfare programs they expect to provide for their citizens.

“Many other island economies in the developing world find themselves penalized in the same way,” he said, adding that some airlines will go out of business. “Aviation is a low-margin industry at the best of times. If surpluses are swallowed up in taxes, airlines will not only be unable to invest in cleaner, emissions-reducing aircraft, they will ultimately go bankrupt–and the social and economic benefits they bring will disappear with them.”