Tourism and the Dry Harbour Mountains


Tourism and the Dry Harbour Mountains

Monday, November 16, 2020

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Yesterday's Sunday Observer article focusing on hotel executive Mr David Wright provides valuable food for thought.

Now 45 years old, Mr Wright started out in the hotel sector as an 18-year-old and has risen through the ranks to a senior supervisory position at one of the island's top hotels on Jamaica's exotic north coast.

A husband and father, he credits tourism for the good that has come to him.

“Everything I have is a result of tourism...” he declared.

In the context of the terrible consequences of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Mr Wright believes the authorities have done well. He is admiring of the protocols to protect visitors and locals.

Yet, we are told, Mr Wright doesn't believe tourism has been properly appreciated by Jamaicans. Our reporter tells us that he is often flabbergasted at how much the sector has been taken for granted.

For decades, tourism has been a mainstay of the struggling Jamaican economy. In 2019 Jamaica is said to have earned US$3.64 billion from 4.3 million visitors. It's estimated that more than 170,000 Jamaicans were in jobs directly connected to tourism prior to COVID-19.

Much has changed since COVID-19 hit like an avalanche earlier this year, shutting down tourism for months. But even the sector's recovery since our limited reopening on June 15 underlines the importance of the visitor industry.

The minister, Mr Edmund Bartlett, tells us that since then Jamaica has welcomed more than 211,000 visitors, generating US$231.9 million in foreign exchange earnings.

But Mr Bartlett also says that, as a result of COVID-19, all should recognise that it can't be “business as usual”.

Says he: “I have always maintained that the once-glorified sand, sun, and sea will no longer be an automatic sell, and COVID-19 has just dispelled that myth in no uncertain manner.”

Post-pandemic, Jamaica will have to do far more than it has done in the past in order to convince potential visitors. Part of that must be a stepping up of the long-talked-about diversification and linkages — involving focus not just on beaches, famous attractions and resorts, but also, to other aspects of Jamaican life, including the natural environment, culture, cuisine, and heritage.

Against that backdrop, tourism stakeholders should all pay close attention to the Government's decision to overrule its environmental agency and allow mining in the Dry Harbour Mountains on the north coast.

Environmentalists opposing the Government's decision insist, quite rightly, that as much as possible the natural environment should be protected and preserved for generations yet unborn.

At an immediate level, tourism stakeholders know that mining of bauxite, limestone, etc, has already 'uglified' significant sections of rural Jamaica — a turn-off for visitors. The scars left by mining are never easy on the eye.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness says the mining company, Bengal Development Limited, will be held to stringent environmental conditions, including land restoration in the Dry Harbour Mountains, replanting of trees, and other activities.

This newspaper expects that tourism stakeholders will be among those seeking to ensure the Government is kept to its word.

Tourism is naturally twinned to the natural environment and, as Mr Wright reminds us, is far too important to be taken for granted.

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