Dynamic linkage strategies increase visitor spend – Adam Stewart

BY ALPHEA SAUNDERS
Observer senior reporter

Friday, September 13, 2019

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Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International and Chairman of the Tourism Linkages Council Adam Stewart believes that the dynamic strategies that are now being used to build Jamaica's tourism product have not only bumped up arrivals, but also the amount of money visitors spend.

“What we did for many years was count arrival heads. In addition to looking at the arrival heads, we (now) record success looking at the spend that each arrival brings. “It's not just looking at numbers but the actual impact that they have financially,” he explained in a recent Jamaica Observer interview.

Stewart outlined that the focus is on the areas that visitors gravitate towards — food, sports, entertainment, knowledge (groups and conventions), health and wellness, and shopping.

“There is nothing more relevant in travel today than authentic, organic, genuine cultural experience,” he said.

He pointed out that overseas conferences, or incentive travel, are a major feature of tourism now. The newly opened AC Marriott Kingston in the heart of the capital is one example of a prime setting for this category of visitors he said, as the 220-room luxury hotel provides the largest and most flexible meetings and convention space in the island.

“Multinationals will come to the island, work in the daytime, and we put on banquets and events for them at night-time so that they can experience the culture, then many times they then go out on two-three days of rest and relaxation — tours, excursions, shopping,” he explained.

The ministry and the council are excited about the major impending breakthrough in the liberalisation of the shopping experience for visitors.

Stewart said the liberalisation policy, which is now in the final stages of approval, will not only enhance the visitor experience but will also bring new opportunities for manufacturers.

“That is going to allow a wider spectrum of products that can be brought in, which means the things that were limited or taxed too high are not going to be possible for investors,” he said.

Tourism authorities say 67 per cent of travellers do so for shopping, and that the spend of cruise arrivals, in particular has traditionally been low because Jamaica has not tapped into this lucrative area.

Stewart stressed further that, “We have very capable, passionate and strong Jamaican leaders who know their trade. One of the misnomers is that Jamaica can produce things on large scales. We don't produce linen, flatware, silverware – there are some things that you don't have an industry of. Craft, souvenir, and conwsumer goods - those are things that we do and can do at scale”.

The Council chairman pointed out that the network is a strategic body manned and led by “very smart and experienced people” in their areas of expertise, and that this has helped to break new frontiers on the tourism growth agenda.

“What we have tried to do is not reinvent the wheel but add horsepower to things that are already happening – a great example of that is Jamaica Carnival. We made a decision two-and-a-half years ago that we weren't gonna try to swim upstream, we were going to bolt-on and do everything possible to move that from 3,000 visitors,” he said, noting that those figures have been tripled in 2019.

Stewart said that one of the features of the Council's work which he is proudest of is the Agro Links Exchange (ALEX) – the farmer's app — an online platform which is disproving the old notion that farmers are illiterate.

“The big deal is you have a farmer who has a product (and) you have a hotel that has a demand, and because the two couldn't connect seamlessly and digitally what people would do is go and buy these in Miami,” he said, noting that today's digital world has created a paradigm shift which enables farmers to move their produce from farm to buyer, seamlessly.

“I think what makes me unique as chairman is that I understand how hotels work — inside out – you have to take the notion that people will choose the path of least resistance, so the number of people who are going to get in a van and go and explore the 250,000 small farmers in Jamaica are very few. They're not going to do it, so you've got to get the information to them seamlessly, and the way to do that is by going digital,” he stated.

Stewart noted that the Rural Agricultural Development Authority has been a strong supporting partner in the development and roll-out of the ALEX platform and that it is progressively becoming more seamless.

“The goal is to get it straight from farmer to supplier. The technology works,” he remarked.

“Sandals hotels are leading by example, with more than 90 per cent of all the produce which is used in its 35,000 meals per day picked within 24 hours of consumption,” the deputy chairman said.

“So we don't just call it farm to table. That's what it is. We at Sandals have gone far and wide to find partnerships that can get us the produce, and my experience and the purchasing department's experience is what we have used to work and educate the linkages, and with the minister and the deputy chairman, I have an amazing team,” he said.

Stewart emphasised that the strategy to increase the tourism dollar spend is deliberate: “It takes a little bit of time, you conceptualise things, you construct them, implement them, and then you watch it grow and build – it's no different than my AC hotel, you open it and it takes time for people to know it's there, it doesn't just happen overnight”.

The main objective of the Tourism Linkages Council is to increase the consumption of goods and services that can be competitively sourced locally, and generate employment while retaining the country's foreign exchange earning potential.

“I think the council is doing a great job,” the chairman said.


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