Make the quantum leap to big development

Friday, October 06, 2017

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Tradition suggests that by November 27, 2017 when the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) Global Conference on Tourism Development and Sustainability opens in Montego Bay, some amount of repair work will have been done to the infrastructure in that city, particularly on the Hip Strip, a magnet for visitors.

What we will see, if the normal behaviour is observed, is a cosmetic sprucing up of verges, roads, drains and, in some cases, a few coats of paint on buildings.

It's what successive governments do when big events are being held, or when world leaders visit.

The problem with that approach is that the work done is never durable. So, in most cases, a few months after the events or the visits the infrastructure starts eroding again and is largely ignored until the need to fix it is unavoidable. That, of course, is unsustainable.

We are revisiting this issue because, since we last addressed the poor state of the Hip Strip in this space just over a month ago, nothing, as far as we are aware, has been done by the authorities.

Our focus on the matter was informed by comments made by the deputy chairman and CEO of this newspaper and Sandals Resorts International, Mr Adam Stewart, in support of a position advanced by fellow hotelier Mr Robin Russell.

Readers will recall that both men had argued that the State needs to get serious about improving conditions on the Hip Strip because the experience it offers is substandard, given the existence of harassment and poor security.

We posited that Mr Stewart had advanced the kind of big thinking needed to transform the Hip Strip, proposing that the focus should be on making it “the South Beach, A1A of Jamaica showcasing a convergence of entertainment, gastronomy, lodging, and international world-class shopping; exposing the authentic cultural richness of Jamaica that continues to fuel a worldwide obsession”.

That transformation, we accept, will not happen overnight. However, Jamaica stands to benefit immensely if we start the process now.

The UNWTO conference is scheduled to be attended by approximately 1,000 delegates from 157 countries, among them tourism and government ministers; representatives from the World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, Caribbean Development Bank, Organisation of American States; and a number of key regional organisations such as the Caribbean Tourism Organisation and the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association.

This conference, therefore, gives Jamaica a glorious opportunity to market Montego Bay, as well as other resort areas on the north coast, to individuals who help influence travel decisions globally. And while it is true that some of those delegates are already familiar with Jamaica, it makes perfect sense to exceed their expectations when they get here.

World Travel & Tourism Council data indicate that, last year, tourism generated US$7.6 trillion, approximately 10.2 per cent of global GDP, and created 292 million jobs. Those figures will increase based on current trends in the sector. If Jamaica is to capture more of that spend, and increase employment, we must make a quantum leap into developing the country in a big way.

As we pointed out in this space before, Jamaica is competing with the world for a travel market that is not only discriminating but demanding.

Big thinking, therefore, must translate into doing.

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