Preserving the patrimony, indeed: The role of the Ministry of Tourism

Edmund Bartlett

Saturday, July 23, 2016

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I note with keen interest a column in The Agenda magazine of the Jamaica Observer by Howard Gregory, lord bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, on Sunday, July 10, 2016. The piece, entitled ‘Preserving the patrimony’, explored some of the psycho-social and economic challenges confronting residents of resort towns that are believed to be stemming from the expansion of the all-inclusive tourism product within their communities. Specifically, the article addressed the increased feelings of dispossession among many residents from their lands and beaches and their intense feeling of isolation from the economic benefits of tourism development in their areas.

The concerns raised by Bishop Gregory are by no stretch of the imagination new, and I applaud him for revisiting the discourse surrounding human resources development and the expansion of tourism in Jamaica. His well-intended and thought-provoking commentary has indeed provided the Ministry of Tourism with a timely opportunity to utilise a public forum to draw attention to many of our existing and upcoming strategies, policies and initiatives that will be deployed in an effort to address some of the very same issues identified.


I am particularly committed to ensuring that the enhancement of the country’s tourism sector does not increase environmental vulnerabilities or threaten our cultural heritage or undermine the rights of Jamaicans to legitimately access common resources.


The Ministry of Tourism is aware of the essential and strategic role it must play in aligning tourism development in Jamaica with broader social, economic and environmental objectives, as outlined in the county’s sustainable development roadmap —
National Development Plan 2030. Indeed, the ministry recognises that a well-developed, people-centred tourism sector is indispensable to sustained economic growth in Jamaica.


A globally competitive tourism industry can deliver enormous benefits to the Jamaican economy and society, including increased job creation (especially for skilled labourers), the commercial expansion of agriculture, the expansion of the creative and cultural industries, the expansion of the manufacturing sector, increased income-earning opportunities for operators of micro and medium-sized enterprises such as art and crafts shops and local restaurants, and can support social transformation in general by providing an outlet for many ordinary Jamaicans to parlay their talent and skills into productive and lucrative enterprises.


If the tourism sector can generate more meaningful opportunities for more educated and skilled Jamaicans and forge greater and more sustained linkages with community-based enterprises, many individuals will be less inclined to migrate from their native communities, and others will be less inclined to engage in alternate subversive lifestyles such as scamming, larceny or drug trafficking.


The tourism sector can thus be positioned as an important facilitator of human resources development (directly) and community renewal and peace (indirectly), particularly in a main tourist town such as Montego Bay, which has recently been swept by a wave of crime and violence.


In recognition of the significant value that tourism and entertainment sectors can add to the achievement of sustainable development in Jamaica, the Ministry of Tourism reiterates its commitment to ensuring the fulfilment of the vision for the tourism and entertainment sectors to become engines of economic growth for the local economy, thereby creating opportunities for all Jamaicans. This vision forms the crux of the ministry’s Strategic Business Plan 2016-2019 which will, among other objectives, aim 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.


Despite strong local sentiments decrying the insufficient contribution of the all-inclusive concept to the economic value chain, we at the ministry believe that an all-inclusive does not preclude visitors from interacting with or supporting the local economy, and we continue to partner with stakeholders through a number of initiatives aimed at increasing the consumption of locally, competitively produced goods and services within the tourism sector.


The Linkages Network Initiative was launched by the ministry in 2013 with the specific mandate of strengthening the linkages between tourism and the other industries such as agriculture, manufacturing and the creative industries. This initiative is driven by data captured in a recently conducted tourism demand study which has improved our knowledge of the demand structures of hotels across Jamaica and the supply systems. This has allowed us to make informed decisions that will benefit the local manufacturing and agriculture sectors. A special unit, operating within the Ministry of Tourism, has been established to implement programmes for strengthening linkages, by facilitating business-to-business arrangements between tourism and local sectors, through collaborations with the ministries of agriculture and fisheries, industry, investment and commerce, Jampro, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association.


So far, the ministry has already successfully engaged its multiple stakeholders in collaborating to plan and organise a number of events and initiatives promoting linkages between tourism and local sectors in Jamaica. The ministry remains committed to strengthening existing linkages and identifying other areas in which new linkages can be forged to ensure that the tourism sector becomes an important facilitator of sustainable economic and community development.


As chairman of the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s executive council for affiliates, I have developed a global view of the tourism industry and, within the last five months, I have expanded the Linkages Hub Programme to drive economic growth throughout various tourism segments. This will see us diversifying our existing tourism product by introducing substantive innovations that will make Jamaica the premier destination for health and wellness, sports and entertainment, food and beverages, shopping and exchanging ideas. We anticipate that the diversification of the country’s tourism product into non-traditional markets will not only increase tourist arrivals and generate more foreign exchange, tax revenues and direct employment opportunities for Jamaicans, but will see Jamaicans from all walks of life — carpenters, pan chicken man, tailors, performers and entertainers, doctors, nurses, athletes, academics, large to small shop owners, and herbalists (to name a few) engaging and benefiting from the tourism sector like never before in the history of Jamaica. More importantly, it will be an opportunity to showcase and re-introduce many other aspects of our culture, history and heritage that have been passed down from previous generations.


In addition to these initiatives, the ministry will also intensify its focus on community tourism with the aim of promoting integration between tourism and communities-based enterprises to build a stronger, more resilient local economy where local producers of goods and services can be better guaranteed employment and earning opportunities which will, in turn, produce positive spill-over effects for the wider economy.


One particular initiative is Spruce Up Jamaica. This programme was launched in 2007 during my first stint as minister of tourism and administered by the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo). The programme was designed to be an all-embracing transformational activity, intended to bring all Jamaicans into the circle of people who understand the importance of tourism to his or her personal advancement, as well as to national development.


The programme had three main components:


(1) Destination enhancement, which focused on the beautification of resort towns, the maintenance of highways verges and open spaces, clean-up initiatives, vector control and a community intervention programme;


(2) Destination assurance, which focused on promoting visitor safety and security, the lighting of hot spots and the installation of closed-circuit TV, the placing of garbage receptacles throughout resort towns; and


(3) Human capital development, which focused on tourism skills training, the development of small and medium tourism enterprises and the provision of loans to tourism enterprises through the JN Tourism Loan initiative.


Thousands of residents from resort towns across Jamaica benefited in diverse ways from the Spruce Up Jamaica initiative. The accompanying summer employment programme of 2009, for example, was aimed at stimulating an awareness of the importance of the tourism sector and encouraged young people to pursue careers in the industry by employing over 1,250 high school and tertiary students from the resort areas of Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril, Annotto Bay, and Kingston in tourism-related entities and businesses.


On May 21, 2016 we announced, in collaboration with TPDCo, that the Spruce Up Jamaica Programme will be relaunched across all 63 constituencies with the broad aim of facilitating sustainable livelihoods through job creation, sound environmental practices, the participation of communities in local area development, facilitation of small and medium tourism enterprises and effective integrated marketing communications — a vehicle for building out an inclusive industry.


In the coming months the ministry will also be providing toolkits, technical support and the supporting material to help in developing the capacity of community groups to receive visitors and develop quality tourism enterprises.


The ministry has also taken note of the challenges facing craft vendors in main tourist towns, as many have witnessed a sharp decline in their consumer base and profit margins as mass-produced commodities have increasingly flooded the tourism sector, and also due to poor quality of craft products and poor attitudes towards visitors. We remain fully committed to improving the uniqueness, cultural richness and authenticity of the experiences of visitors to our island as it relates to entertainment, cuisine and shopping by increasing the use of Jamaican inputs in the tourism product. This commitment is aligned with the wider promotion of Brand Jamaica, which aims to increase support of the local manufacturing and creative and cultural industries.


The ministry has decided to intervene to modernise the crafts sector through the activation of the Craft Development Programme which has been mandated to:


(a) develop a National Craft Policy and Strategy,


(b) implement the strategic plans and initiatives of the Craft Council,


(c) upgrade the physical infrastructure of craft markets,


(d) train local vendors in customer services, language, entrepreneurship and craft sales, and


(e) build capacity for craft producers in craft enhancement and business planning.


By the end of 2016 the ministry hopes to:


(a) have a draft craft policy tabled in Parliament as a Green Paper,


(b) solidify the strategic programmes of the craft unit


(c) fully staff the craft unit for implementation of operational programmes


(d) develop a promotional programme for raising awareness about the craft sector, people, products, locations to be implemented by the unit


(e) have over 50 per cent of traders licensed in each region


(f) distribute and have agreement with every craft site executive association to maintain guidelines for operational standards.


(g) train 380 craft vendors in customer service and entrepreneurship


(h) train 120 craft producers in craft production under the OAS/FEMCIDI Project, and


(i) have established 10 inter-agency/private sector linkages to assist in the development of the craft industry.


As it relates to the controversial issue of reduced public access to beaches, as a result of privatisation to create tourist attractions, we here at the ministry are mindful of this concern and we once again pledge our commitment to increasing local access to public beaches while improving the quality of these beach facilities to attract more visitors who will be able to enjoy the upgraded facilities symbiotically with locals.


As we continue our quest to modernise and upgrade the infrastructure of our tourist towns to make them more globally competitive and more attractive to visitors, we have specifically targeted the restoration and rehabilitation of beaches for local and tourist use as a main thrust of our tourism-enhancement strategies. To date the ministry’s Beaches Programme has resulted in the reopening of two beaches (Burwood in Trelawny and Boston in Portland). Three beaches are currently in the construction phase (Lyssons, Annotto Bay and Negril Beach Park). Two more are at the designing and planning phase (Tryall and Salem), while another 16 are at various stages of the planning phase.


In closing , I sincerely hope that all the details that I have provided have satisfactorily addressed the main issues raised by Bishop Gregory and have shed some light on the strategies, policies and initiatives that the Ministry of Tourism intends to activate to increase the economic value of tourism (particularly as it relates to employment creation and revenue generation), to increase linkages between tourism and local sectors through the promotion of community tourism, to modernise the craft sector, and to support community renewal through the alignment of tourism with the development of the productive capacities of local residents in their communities.





Edmund Bartlett is the present minister of tourism.


  

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