Tourism: A strong pillar for economic growth


Sunday, February 18, 2018

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The resilient tourism sector continues to be the leading catalyst of economic development in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean Basin, bringing valuable investments to our shores, generating one in every four jobs, and forging many critical sectorial linkages that produce positive spillover effects for the wider local and Caribbean economy. Today I come to you delighted to reaffirm that destination Jamaica remains a pacemaker in global tourism.

For 2018, the Jamaican tourism sector is expected to improve upon its record-breaking performance from last year when we welcomed an unprecedented 4.3 million visitors to our shores. The stellar performance and promising future outlook for the sector has strengthened our resolve (the Ministry of Tourism) to do everything in our powers to ensure that tourism maximises its potential to be the engine of social and economic transformation in Jamaica, moving lives from poverty to prosperity. Specifically, my ministry remains committed to an intensification of its policies to ensure that we engender a tourism product that promotes inclusive and sustainable economic growth and social inclusiveness.

The tourism industry has traditionally been such a strong pillar of economic growth and development in Jamaica mainly because of the economic linkages and diversification the sector promotes within the broader economy. The tourism value chain already incorporates several sectors. Its promotion requires the construction and operation of hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related facilities through backwards linkages; and the development of basic infrastructure services, such as energy, telecommunications and environmental services; agriculture, manufacturing and other support services.

Tourism has also created a wide range of forward linkages with sectors supplying services consumed by tourists. These include financial, telecommunications, retail, recreational, cultural, personal, hospitality, security, and health services. In addition, the strengthening of our tourism sector has required the development of other tourism-supporting infrastructure such as airports, proper roads, ports, hospitals and banks, which are essential for providing access to high-quality services and creating a competitive tourism destination.

We can extrapolate that tourism has enormous potential to be a powerful tool for community development and reducing inequalities if it engages local populations and all key stakeholders in its development. Tourism can contribute to urban renewal and rural development, and reduce regional imbalances by giving communities the opportunity to prosper in their place of origin and produce positive spillover effects that stimulate economic activities.

As the minister of tourism, I have assumed personal responsibility for aligning tourism development in Jamaica with broader social, economic and environmental imperatives as outlined in the county's sustainable development road map — Vision 2030. I am well aware of the perception among many Jamaicans that the tourism sector only benefits hotel owners and large businesses. This is a perception that I have set out to change. My ministry is paying close attention to the sector's capacity to expand its economic benefits to local populations and generate prosperity and wealth for Jamaicans from all walks of life.

We are currently repositioning the tourism sector to ensure that it supports deeper cross-sectorial linkages, attracts more local investors, stimulates small-scale entrepreneurial activities, and promotes broader participation of local populations in the sector. We are especially committed to a vibrant and invigorated community tourism model that enriches the quality of life in Jamaican communities by returning economic, cultural, social and environmental benefits to the communities in which tourism enterprises operate.

We strongly believe that greater emphasis on local participation in the tourism sector will help us to the deal with the perennial problem of leakage, which can be defined as the unwanted leaving of money from the country as a result of taxes, wages, imports, and profits that are paid outside the country. Leakage prevents money from flowing back into the Jamaican economy and stimulating local economic development.

Developing countries like Jamaica experience a higher rate of tourism leakage than the rest of the world. It has been estimated that the rate of leakage among developing regions range from 70 per cent for Thailand to 80 per cent for the Caribbean to 40 per cent for India. A study conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) found that “only $5 out of every $100 spent on a “vacation package” (typically, all-inclusive) by an overseas traveler from a developed country stays in the developing country's economy.

To address the problem of leakage and ensure that the tourism sector delivers on its promise of inclusive growth for all, we are seeking to identify areas where strong opportunities exist for increased consumption of local goods and services in the sector and are implementing strategies for linking it to local industries for the overall benefit of the domestic economy. This vision forms the crux of the ministry's Strategic Business Plan 2016-2019, which aims to strengthen linkages with other sectors; of the economy, particularly the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, strengthen the benefits derived from the industry by local residents and communities,' promote broader participation by all Jamaicans; and ensure the safety, security and sustainability of the natural and built environments.

Apart from identifying areas where there is strong opportunity for increased consumption of local goods and services in the tourism sector, we are also seeking to increase understanding of the supply chain for the industry, identify specific constraints and limitations hindering tourism linkage with the domestic economy, and also to determine the receptivity for use of local goods and services within the sector.

I am proud to announce that my ministry has already taken bold steps to promote the diversification of the country's tourism sector and to deepen economic linkages between the tourism sector and the other sectors of the economy. I am particularly proud to announce that my ministry is pushing ahead with plans to construct five artisan villages in resort areas across the island (Montego Bay, Negril, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio) over the next four years.

These facilities will provide an avenue for Jamaican artists and craftsmen to expose and market their creativity while limiting the volume of imported craft items that are being sold in the industry. Plans are also well afoot for the Tourism Product Development Company's (TPDCo) establishment of a Craft Development Institute (CDI) at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (ENCVPA) in Kingston under a Memorandum of Understanding between the entities. The CDI is among several initiatives being pursued by TPDCo with a view to expand the craft industry by providing artisans with opportunities to participate in product enhancement and business development training programmes.

In 2016 we launched our Community Tourism Portal, which is a web-based platform to promote licensed community-based tourism enterprises across the island. This innovation provides the community tourism subsector with an online presence and online marketing strategies to create growth. This is achieved by the portal's capability to build awarenees of the sector in Jamaica, provide comprehensive and engaging information on the product in the country, as well as provide a convenient means for bookings. It also provides entrepreneurs with affordable and cost-effective e-marketing services.

As minister of tourism for Jamaica, I have also responded to the demand for strengthening of tourism linkages through the creation of The Tourism Linkages Network in 2011, which is supported by a Tourism Linkages Council, made up of public- and private-sector partners who oversee the coordination and implementation of effective and sustainable strategies which strengthen and facilitate linkages.

The Jamaica Linkages Network continues to strengthen and encourage vibrant linkages through a number of initiatives focused primarily on human capacity building, assisting micro, small and medium-sized enterprises with their development, greater integration of local products and services into the tourism product and expanding the country's potential to tap into new segments of the tourism market.

One of our most notable achievements to date has been the activation of Our Five Networks, which is a conceptual model of our plan to target five new markets/segments over the next five years to promote diversification and deepening of economic linkages between tourism and other sectors.

Our Five Networks are:

• Gastronomy

• Health and wellness

• Sports tourism

• Knowledge

• Shopping

In terms of the gastronomy industry, which is valued at US$150 million, we recognise that Jamaica has a rich culinary culture and thus enjoys a competitive advantage in this area. We have already named Devon House in Kingston as the country's first gastronomy centre. Plans are afoot to launch more food festivals and integrate food experiences into existing flagships. Anticipated beneficiaries of the expansion of gastronomy tourism in Jamaica include: farmers, local restaurants, distilleries and breweries, pan-chicken vendors, cookshops, fisherfolk etc.

We also have plans to tap into the global US$3 trillion “health and wellness” industry. Members of the Government-appointed Health and Wellness Network Committee are tasked with developing the conceptual framework and leading efforts to improve some mineral spa facilities in the country and to promote medical tourism products and services such as spa treatment, nature healing, medical diagnostic, dental and medical surgeries; and to develop key attractions.

Sports and entertainment tourism is the fastest-growing segment within the travel industry today. We believe that our rugged outback, our steep hills and mountains, our seas and rivers, our tropical, friendly climate, and our generally adventurous landscape can be harnessed to attract travellers who seek thrill, recreation and excitement. We are seeking to capitalise on Jamaica's sporting excellence and internationally recognised culture and also to expand the inclusion of local cultural creative and entertainment products in the hospitality sector as a means of generating income for small businesses and local entertainers.

We are also aiming to create condition for the growth of local brands and local producers of fashion, souvenirs, art and craft in the tourism sector, and facilitate the establishment of shopping villages to include flagship stores for international designer brands and hosting of shopping events (a la Black Friday).

In closing, I reaffirm my commitment to positioning the tourism sector in Jamaica as a catalyst of social and economic transformation. We are not just talking the talk, but we have been walking the walk also. Our linkages network along with a number of other similar initiatives aimed at deepening tourism's economic linkages exemplify this. At every turn we are ensuring that every single Jamaican with something valuable to offer can be engaged in the tourism sector and pursue sustainable livelihoods generated from their talent, skills and efforts. This is our vision for inclusive growth in Jamaica and we remain committed to realising it.

Edmund Bartlett is Minister of Tourism and Member of Parliament for St James East Central.

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