Story Highlights Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, is encouraging Caribbean leaders to collaborate on ways to collectively strengthen tourism across the region. The Minister was speaking at the 26th World Travel Awards (WTA) Caribbean and North America Gala Ceremony at Sandals Montego Bay on Monday, January 28. He contends that while there is high demand for the product, collaboration will further boost its allure and competitiveness. Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, is encouraging Caribbean leaders to collaborate on ways to collectively strengthen tourism across the region.He contends that while there is high demand for the product, collaboration will further boost its allure and competitiveness.The Minister was speaking at the 26th World Travel Awards (WTA) Caribbean and North America Gala Ceremony at Sandals Montego Bay on Monday, January 28.Mr. Bartlett, who noted that 30 million tourists visited the region in 2018, said Caribbean countries remain highly dependent on tourism to drive economic growth.He said, in this regard, it is imperative that regional tourism leaders “work together as a team… to build the strength of tourism and make [it] work for the people of these countries”.The Minister pointed out that an average 1.4 billion visitors travel annually, spending approximately US$1.3 trillion.Noting that about 30 million of those tourists visit the region, Mr. Bartlett argued that “we are using that as a means of building the Caribbean and we can only do it if we collaborate… if we understand the importance of the economic logic that says to collaborate is better than to compete”.Meanwhile, Mr. Bartlett continues to emphasis the linkages network as “the pathway to prosperity for recipient destinations of tourism”, noting that it generates and retains more foreign exchange earnings locally.Against this background, he said Jamaica, through the Linkage Council, will “lead the world in having a better appreciation of how to increase the retention capacity within recipient destinations”.This, the Minister added, “so that tourism can remove this aura of enclave definition that it has had for years and truly become an inclusive industry providing growth and prosperity for all.”Meanwhile, Minister Bartlett expressed appreciation to WTA founder, Graham Cooke, for bringing the awards to Jamaica for a sixth time.“The world of tourism owes you a debt of gratitude because when you are inspired to bring the Oscars of tourism to countries like Jamaica, it [gives] us a feeling that we could indeed shine so that the world could see the lustre of our destinations,” he added.Jamaica and several local tourism and hospitality companies emerged big WTA winners, sweeping 23 coveted awards.Jamaica received the award for Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Ship Destination and Caribbean’s Leading Destination.The island’s ports of entry were also big winners, with Ocho Rios copping the award for Leading Cruise Port.The award for Caribbean’s Leading Home Port went to Montego Bay, while Sangster International Airport landed the Leading Caribbean Airport award.The award for Caribbean’s Leading Meetings and Conference Centre was picked up by the Montego Bay Convention Centre, with the Jamaica Tourist Board being named the region’s Leading Tourist Board.Other winners were Dolphin Cove – Caribbean’s Leading Adventure Tourist Attraction; and Half Moon Hotel – Caribbean’s Leading Conference Hotel.