Make tourism work for everybody
Jamaica has accepted tourism as a major revenue source. The island has been a tourist attraction for more than 50 years. Banking on tourism is not peculiar to Jamaica. Much of the Caribbean thinks the same way. And indeed, so do most of the world's countries, given that tourism ranks among the foremost industries worldwide. There is nothing wrong with depending on tourism as long as one approaches it like any other industry. Getting it right involves extremely complicated planning, organisation and decision-making.
There is a big difference between those countries that maintain a strong tourist trade over a long period of time and those that do not. Often the difference is largely accidental. European countries have a built-in advantage. They have a relatively long history with many historical ruins accumulated over centuries of mutual destruction of their neighbours' properties. But Europe has also been a large exporter of people over centuries, so at present the continent is attractive for heritage tourism and for historical legacies. Yet even European countries plan their tourist industry well.
The New World has a shorter historical span in the terms that Europeans regard history. But across the Americas attractive natural wonders abound. Moreover, just about every country has discovered that milking tourists is easier and much more remunerative than milking cows. So the competition is fierce for the tourist dollar.
Jamaica justifiably claims that its tourism product is competitive with the best in the world. And almost every minister of tourism boasts that during his administration tourist arrivals moved upward. That may be correct. But producing whole numbers does not tell the whole picture. Moreover, getting reliable data that enable serious and meaningful analysis of the Jamaica tourist industry is extremely difficult.
For the industry to be successful in Jamaica it must work for everybody. The signs are that at the moment the benefits of Jamaican tourism do not reach far enough into the population. That is to say, some hotels may be successful but the ancillary services are not being boosted proportionally by the increases in tourist arrivals. And this case can be based on changes in the Jamaican tourist industry.
It's of note that that many tourists who visit Jamaica arrive via cruise ships and stay on their ships during stop-overs rather than stay in hotels. The per capita income from cruise-ship visitors must be alarmingly lower than from land-based visitors. If Jamaica wants to be serious about tourism, it needs to work harder at the industry and gloat less about its presumed success. Even by Caribbean standards Jamaica is not a huge success.