Idle sugar estates have great tourism potential

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

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Dear Editor,

The sugar cane industry in Jamaica had been a source of tremendous wealth for its owners in its heyday; however, after more than 400 years, it has become less attractive. And, in some ways it has become a liability to Jamaica and its people, resulting in the industry being progressively closed down. Several factories have ceased operation over the years, several houses, equipment, and other once-useful assets on many plantations are being allowed to deteriorate, and thousands of acres of Jamaica's most arable land have now gone idle.

There is a Jamaican saying that “dirty water out fire”, and this to me is enough guidance by our ancestors for us to put these seemingly useless assets to productive alternative uses. Among the uses that can be made of aspects of our idle sugar production facilities is tourism.

Many sugar factories have an interesting history, and other fascinating things about them that I am sure could be packaged and used to attract tourists. Most sugar factories have great houses, once used by planters and later by plantation staff, and which could be renovated and used in several ways as a part of the tours. Some plantations have several houses that can be conditioned to provide rooms for tourists and others who wish to overnight, or stay for longer periods. I believe the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, and Fisheries should collaborate with the Ministry of Tourism to transform aspects of the idle sugar production facilities in Jamaica into a valuable tourism product, which I have no doubt a large enough sector of the tourism market would be interested in.

Given the expanding tourism in the northern section of Jamaica and the need for more attractions and diversity in the offerings, I believe the Long Pond and Hampden sugar estates are prime facilities to be considered for such ventures.

Long Pond and Hampden have interesting histories, and several great houses which could be reconditioned, in addition to several houses that were once used for staff accommodation, and idle factories that have several features that could be a part of a significant tour. Areas around the factories could continue to be used for some amount of sugar cane production to be used for making cane juice on-the-spot — either pure or flavoured with several kinds of local fruits — to be sold to tourists while they are on tour at the facility. The sugar and rum-making processes on a small scale could also be done as a part of the tour, at the end of which the syrup, wet sugar, rum, other alcoholic drinks, and foods, along with other items that can be made from sugar cane could be packaged and sold to local and international tourists.

The houses on these estates could also be renovated to be used as bed and breakfast offerings, and could increase the number of rooms available to tourists in the north of the island, and which could appeal to a particular sector of the market.

Exploiting the tourism potential of these facilities could diversify the tourism product available to cruise ship passengers who come to the Falmouth port, and other tourists with interest in this kind of experience. This venture would also provide jobs and economic improvements for the residents of Trelawny and its environs. Further, there would be tremendous spin-offs with wide-reaching economic benefits locally and for tourism on the whole. These idle facilities offer great opportunities that we need to exploit to improve our circumstances. Remember, “Dirty water out fire.”

Winston Foster

irieproducers@hotmail.com


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