Striking a cautious note

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

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Tourism has been a major cornerstone of the Jamaican economy for decades, and every indication is that such will be the case for a long time to come.

The challenge always is to improve the attractiveness of the country's tourism product beyond the clichéd sun, sand, and sea and as much as possible to increase earnings from the industry, as well as employment.

Jamaica's Economic and Social Survey for 2017 tells us that 99,300 people were employed in the nation's hotel and restaurant industries in 2017, up from 94,750 the previous year.

According to the survey, 4.276 million visitors (including stopovers and cruise) arrived here in 2017, up by 7.8 per cent from the previous year. Estimates suggest visitors spent in excess of US$2.9 billion, 11.2 per cent more than 2016. Average expenditure for individual stopover visitors per day was put at US$128.48 “relative” to US$120.37 during 2016. Individual cruise passengers were said to have spent US$92.01 daily, up from US$90.47 in 2016.

Anxious to elevate and maximise earnings, the leadership of Jamaica's tourism, including successive ministers, has long contemplated the idea of including casino gambling as a segment of the nation's tourism product, subject to laws and regulations.

Perceptions in some quarters that casino and other forms of organised gambling pose a natural attraction for organised crime have caused hesitation. There have also been concerns, and in some cases vigorous opposition from the religious community and others, that gambling undermines values and attitudes.

All of which has informed the cautious note struck by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett as he announced plans for casino gambling a few days ago.

Mr Bartlett told a forum in Montego Bay that the first of three regulated casinos should be up and running in Jamaica by the start of 2020. But he was quick to say Jamaica will “not be a casino destination”.

Said he: “The fact is that casino for Jamaica is not a requirement for our growth, but within the context of the integrated development model, casino gaming is a driver for exponential growth. So we do not see Jamaica ever becoming a casino destination but rather a destination, in which casino gaming is available… Casinos should represent no more than 20 per cent of the value of the experience that is offered as the integrated development arrangement.”

Mr Bartlett is reported as saying planned casino operations should add two per cent to gross domestic product.

We are told that construction of a minimum of 1,000 rooms and US$1 billion in investment would be the minimum condition for acquiring a casino licence.

“The casino must come with shopping, entertainment, with music, and with maritime experiences and a whole range of other experiences, because we wanted to make sure that the balance remained, so that there wouldn't be stand-alone casino arrangements all over Jamaica,” Mr Bartlett said.

This newspaper supports any initiative that boosts Jamaica's tourism industry in an orderly and progressive way. We await with interest this planned expansion.

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