Pass or fail?
OVER the next few months, if all goes well with the procurement process, Jamaicans will have a chance to say exactly how they feel about the country’s tourism industry.
The Ministry of Tourism (MOT) recently invited bids for a consultant(s) or firm to do a survey. The deadline for submission was September 19, and “several tenders” are now being assessed ahead of a final decision.
According to an ad placed in the Jamaica Observer, the tourism ministry wants to get a picture of “the public’s knowledge and perception of the local tourism sector and its impact on the average citizen, especially as the sector continues to drive Jamaica’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery”.
The MOT estimates that 3.88 million visitors will travel to the country this year, generating US$4.2 billion in earnings. That is expected to grow to US$4.3 billion raked in from 4.59 million visitors in 2024, and US$5 billion from five million visitors in 2025.
With so much riding on an industry that depends on locals being good hosts, it is no surprise that every now and then the MOT pauses to take the public’s pulse. It said the last survey was done in 2015.
“The ministry wants to identify if there has been a change in public perception of the sector since the last survey, and to use the results of the new survey as the baseline for a new national public education campaign,” the ad explained.
With the upcoming quantitative survey expected to go through the often-complicated and protracted procurement process, the MOT said a lot of the details cannot be made public at this time.
“Based on the nature of the procurement process we are unable to give an exact timeframe” for the announcement of the winning bid and the survey start date, the MOT said Tuesday in written replies to questions sent in by the Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
It also said it was unable to provide an estimated cost for the public education campaign that will be launched, based on the survey findings, as well as results of the last survey.
“Key findings of the survey are outlined in the information provided for the current tender process. In light of the fact that the tender process is currently underway, providing information regarding the upcoming survey, including likely areas of comparative analysis and placing it in the public domain, could undermine the procurement process,” said the ministry.
Jamaica’s tourism sector has gone through several phases of evolution, and so has public perception. In the early days the dynamic was one of Caucasian tourists being served by locals whose parents and grandparents had also worked in the industry. Today, the profile of visitors has changed; there is a distinct difference between service and servitude; workers in the tourism sector are demanding more — both in terms of remuneration and respect; and there are many more interesting, and sometimes unusual, jobs available within the sector.
At the same time the COVID-19 pandemic — during which hundreds of thousands of sector employees were out of work — gave many of them the impetus to look for jobs beyond tourism. That shift has been coupled with not infrequent complaints that more is done to cater to the comfort of tourists than locals. There have also been rumblings of discontent after some properties, which wooed locals who kept them afloat as the pandemic raged, have gone back to packages that largely focus on visitors.
Tourism stakeholders often highlight the importance of locals, without whom the industry would not exist; the Government has implemented the Tourism Workers Pension Scheme as a way to provide some level of security for sector workers when they retire; at least one new hotel has been required to include accommodations for employees; and there are many opportunities for training that can potentially open the doors to higher-paying jobs within the industry. Time will tell whether these steps, and others like them, will be enough to earn the sector a passing grade.