Jamaican minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett, has reiterated his plans for the recovery of the sector in remarks issued in support of World Tourism Day.
He said: “Today, we join the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) and the global community in celebrating World Tourism Day.
“This theme this year, ‘Tourism and Rural Development,’ highlights the unique role that tourism plays in providing opportunities outside of big cities and preserving cultural and natural heritage all around the world.
Here in Jamaica, this theme will guide our activities for Tourism Awareness Week, which runs until October 3rd, as we raise awareness of tourism’s significant contribution to the island’s wide-scale growth and development.
These include daily advertorials highlighting rural development initiatives of the ministry of tourism and its agencies, a church service, virtual expo and webinar, social media competitions and a youth photography competition.”
Turning his attention to the pandemic that has wrought havoc across the tourism sector, minister Bartlett said the market would bounce back strong than ever.
He continues: “Tourism is one of the largest industrial sectors in the world, driving job creation, economic growth and infrastructural development.
“In the last seven months, however, the Covid-19 pandemic and its containment measures have severely tested the resilience of the global tourism economy.
“Pre-pandemic, there were 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals; travel and tourism accounted for ten per cent of global GDP; and it employed one in ten people around the world.
“At home, as we welcomed 4.3 million visitors, the sector earned US$3.7 billion, contributed 9.5 per cent to the nation’s GDP and generated some 170,000 direct jobs.
“Unfortunately, both at home and abroad, Covid -19 has resulted in major job losses, while the falloff in business and earnings has been staggering.”
He continued: “Probably the single positive take-away from this Covid-19 crisis is that it has highlighted tourism’s critical importance to national development.
“Tourism is the heartbeat of our economy and will serve as the catalyst of Jamaica’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery.
“As we re-imagine our tourism product in these uncertain times, the focus on rural development seems quite timely.
“Tourism in rural areas will provide key opportunities for recovery as these communities seek to bounce back from the harsh economic setback caused by the pandemic.”
Bartlett explained the ministry of tourism was committed to working with our rural communities to strengthen their resilience, create jobs and build economic opportunities.
“These communities are at the heart of our tourism product; providing the authentic, unique experiences and local lifestyles that provide our visitors with more enriching experiences,” he added.
“This is evident in the work of the Tourism Enhancement Fund’s linkages network, which is widening the pool of persons benefiting from tourism by strengthening the relationship with other sectors of the economy.”
One of its great successes is the annual Blue Mountain Coffee Festival, Bartlett said, which is greatly benefiting coffee farmers and communities in the hills of rural St. Andrew, while it’s Agri-linkages Exchange platform is facilitating the purchase of local fresh agricultural produce by our hospitality industry.
He continued: “We have also encouraged rural development through community tourism.
“Community involvement is the cornerstone of sustainable tourism development. Our partnership with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, under its Rural Economic Development Initiative, is facilitating the sustainable growth of community tourism enterprises across the island.
The National Community Tourism Policy and Strategy tabled in 2015, a Community Tourism Portal and Community Tourism Toolkit workshops are all supporting this process.
“It has made the sector accessible to more Jamaicans while allowing more revenue to remain in rural and often economically marginalised communities.
“Also, the Tourism Product Development Company has been facilitating enterprises through training, marketing, licensing compliance and investment, while the Jamaica Tourist Board has a dedicated marketing programme for licensed community tourism enterprises.
“More major projects are set to come on-stream.
“Within the next five years, we will establish a special community tourism unit in the ministry of tourism to work with communities and hotels to expand participation by community members, while providing authentic experiences for all persons visiting Jamaica.
“We will also explore the development of new destinations in St. Thomas, the South Coast and other parts of Jamaica that have untapped tourism potential.
“At the same time, we will continue to build out a framework of support that will include product development, training, infrastructural improvement and access to financing for rural communities.
“We are committed to adding depth and diversity to our tourism product while providing economic viability in communities beyond Jamaica’s traditional resort areas.
“This will lay the foundation for a more equitable, sustainable and inclusive tourism sector that benefits all Jamaicans.”