Jamaica tourism minister calls for more inclusive sector
KINGSTON, Jamaica — In the wake of record performances, Jamaica’s tourism minister has questioned how to ensure that this tourism success translates into benefits for all citizens in communities across Jamaica.
Minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett, announced that the tourism sector is continuing its trend of record-breaking arrivals and earnings as Jamaica welcomed 2,165,330 visitors for the first six month of this year, which represents a 3.9 percent increase over the same period last year. This figure comprises 1,186,646 stop-over arrivals and 978,684 cruise visitors.
In addition, the sector earned some US$1.46 billion between January and June of this year; a remarkable 7.5 percent increase over the same period last year.
“The last three months – April, May, and June – have averaged ten percent growth in arrivals and July and August are trending in a similar fashion. We expect to end the year with over four million visitors for the first time in our history,” Bartlett said at the weekly luncheon meeting of the Rotary Club of Kingston on Friday.
Noting that the Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, Bartlett said it would be prudent to examine the sector a little more closely “to see how we can use it better for national development.”
Bartlett said that according to the United Nations Economic Commission of Latin America and the Caribbean, in their symposium in 2015 in Trinidad and Tobago entitled “The Caribbean and the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda”, the Caribbean has lagged not only in terms of absolute growth, but also relative to other developing countries; falling behind growth rates in East Asia and Africa in every decade since 1970, as well as behind the Least Developed Countries since 1980.
Bartlett noted that the Caribbean has performed poorly even relative to other small island developing countries. “The UNDP in their Human Development Report for Latin America and the Caribbean 2016 expressed their particular concern over the 25-30 million people in the region – more than a third of those who left poverty since 2003 – who risk falling back into poverty, many of which are youth and women,” he said.
The UNDP report also raised concerns about the success of small and medium enterprises, which are said to contribute over 90 percent of employment and 70 percent of the GDP in the Caribbean. These include the low level of access to credit and restrictions to financing, and the high costs involved in hiring a worker formally in relation to productivity gains, in particular due to the non-wage-related costs involved in hiring formal labor in terms of health, pensions and training.
Bartlett said, however, that the Caribbean had made progress as, with the exception of Haiti, the World Bank has classified all Caribbean countries as having either high or middle-income status, with most countries in the middle income group – Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname. The five countries classified as high income were Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, St Kitts and Nevis, and Trinidad and Tobago.
“But what does this tell us? These results tell us that despite growth at the macro level, and our classification as middle-income countries, our human population still remains vulnerable as the benefits are not reaching the people at large,” Bartlett said.
“We are at a stage where growth is not growth if the tourism dollars are not reaching the grassroots level. Distribution and retention are serious issues that we grapple with and we must embrace sustainable development as a way of creating a more inclusive sector,” he added.
The ministry of tourism has put in place a framework to widen the net of people benefitting from the industry in terms of ownership and employment. The tourism minister said that through its Tourism Linkages Network initiatives are being created to better integrate tourism with the wider society by increasing the consumption of local goods and services, creating employment, and generating and retaining more of the country’s foreign exchange earnings.