One million tourists come to Jamaica in first nine weeks of the year


Friday, March 08, 2019

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The Ministry of Tourism is calculating that as of today one million tourists (cruise and stopover) have visited Jamaica in the first nine weeks of this year (January 1 to March 8), representing a 15 per cent increase on the prior year's figures.

This represents the highest level of visitors to Jamaica in this time frame and to put it further into context, the country normally attracts a million visitors during the entire winter season.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced that the industry in Jamaica continues to be on an upward trajectory with its contribution to GDP dipping just once in the last 10 years, and that was in 2008/2009 largely due to the global financial crisis.

Citing the latest figures from STATIN (for the year 2017) Bartlett announced that tourism's contribution to GDP has moved from 8.4 per cent in 2016 to 9 per cent in 2017. That represents an expenditure contribution to GDP of 22 per cent moving from $369 billion in 2016 to $431 billion in 2017. In 2018 the country earned US$3.3 billion from tourism.

Bartlett pointed out that as well as seeing an uptick in tourism revenues the sector added 19,000 more jobs over the period and now directly employs 120,000 people.

It must be made clear here that these latest STATIN figures do not account for cruise ship visitors or attractions but instead centre on hotels and restaurants. According to the Ministry of Tourism, the sector accounts for a about a third of the country's GDP and employs both directly and indirectly 300,000 Jamaicans.

“Look, it's not just about contribution to GDP growth but more about value-added. Tourism has the highest value-added of all the industries, with it up 5 per cent on 2016/2017. We must study in more detail the impact tourism is having on related sectors like transportation, agriculture and manufacturing. By the time I get to budget, I should have some hard numbers on that.

“I do think the true worth and value of tourism as a driver of economic activities within the country is being misrepresented. We want more people to be connected to the value chain and that is part of the purpose of understanding these numbers that have been presented, “ said the minister of tourism.

The minister has been holding a number of discussions with local bankers about investment on the supply side and the value-added chain. He would like to see more small factories engaged in garment manufacturing, bed sheets, pillows, blankets and other necessities for the tourism industry.

He pointed out that next to labour costs, energy is the largest input cost accounting for 13 per cent and that is a concern, but with LNG and renewables gaining those costs are expected to be reduced.

Local purchases directed to the sector did not escape the minister's attention. He announced that they represent a little over $2 billion for just fresh fruit and vegetables.

“But that local purchase is not necessarily local goods, because Jamaicans who sell also import from elsewhere. That is why it is important to create an investment climate. The SMEs that can contribute so much to tourism are being left behind. We in government are trying to lead the way and we have already placed $1 billion in the EXIM Bank especially for this purpose.

“We will be lending to small businesses targeting the sector at 4.5 per cent over a five-year period, which is the lowest out there in the commercial market. These loans are for a minimum of $5 million and a maximum of $25 million, said Bartlett.

In 2018, Jamaica saw 4.31 million visitors come into the country and the Ministry of Tourism is expecting to surpass that figure for 2019. It notes increased arrivals from the United States and Latin America and when LATAM comes on stream, Latin America will do even better. More visitors are coming from Europe and the Caribbean is showing steady growth. The Diaspora is now running at 10 per cent of total arrivals.

Bartlett credits the level of marketing done by the JTB, and singles out Director of Tourism Donovan White for praise here. There has been a greater emphasis on digital marketing and tourism diplomacy.

“Jamaica has inserted itself well into all the marketplaces across the world and is now becoming the talking point. We are seeing a new wave of investment in Jamaican tourism and we expect between 6,000 to 8 ,000 new rooms to come on stream over the next five years. The reason for this is because Jamaica is now seen as a safer and more secure destination with higher value-added.

“The ADRs that Jamaica is now getting particularly this winter season is at the highest they have ever been. This is what we have brought to the industry – a higher level of value because we have been at the forefront of tourism leadership.

“To that extent, the market has recognised Jamaica and its value. We are seeing it in added investments and we are seeing it in greater arrival numbers and in more airlines coming to Jamaica,“ said Bartlett.

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