Former president of the Jamaica Manufacturers' Association (JMA) Omar Azan is appealing for improved and strengthened linkages between the tourism sector and the productive sectors, noting that this will require a cross-sectoral support.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer recently in an interview, the chairman and CEO of Boss Furniture said strengthening linkages between tourism and farming and tourism and manufacturing will also have a positive knock-on effect on employment, crime, and the foreign exchange rate.
"I just pray that our Government and our facilitating agencies of Government will see the importance of promoting manufacturing, promoting exports, promoting low interest rates, promoting a stable currency, and trying to do whatever they can to keep employment going because it's through employment and through growth and expansion in exports and manufacturing that we're gonna start creating wealth in our nation," Azan said.
"We pray and hope that the hoteliers who are operating here in Jamaica will look to supporting and giving more of their local support to the local manufacturers that they can help to grow, because it doesn't make sense operating in a country and you're importing everything, and not helping the people that are out on the ground. Because, if you don't, then what's gonna happen with crime, violence and the problems that will be brought to the tourism industry? We need to have a system where there's proper linkages and support from Government, from private sector, all areas of industry to work together to help us to get out of the problems that we're in," he continued.
Azan said that while he is aware that some hotels are supportive of the local manufacturing industry, he is also cognisant that others may not be sold on the idea. At the same time, he said there are companies that purchase most of their retail goods in Jamaica, such as bottled water, but import other hotel inputs from abroad.
For example, he bemoaned that despite the presence of major paint manufacturers in Jamaica such as Sherwin Williams, Berger, Lanco, and EdgeChem, hotels were importing paint from abroad. By reducing importation and increasing support of the local industries, "that's how we're gonna save foreign exchange and be able to create employment in your company and domestic market you're operating in", Azan reasoned.
"I remember when I was president of the JMA (Jamaica Manufacturers' Association, the precursor to the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association), when we fought the imported water. Remember all the imported brands that were being brought in? Every hotel you [went] into in Jamaica, there was an imported bottled water and with the fight of the JMA, not one hotel I know when I travel to now, I see imported water. It's all locally bottled water that [is] being placed in those hotel refrigerators that you see now, which I'm so proud to say that I was a part of the entire JMA team to allow that big bottle water industry, and even the juice industry, to grow," he shared.
Between 2007 and 2011, Azan served four consecutive terms as president of the JMA, receiving widespread corporate support for the 'Buy Jamaican, Build Jamaica' campaign during his tenure. The JMA would later merge with the Jamaica Exporters Association in 2018 to create the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA).
When asked if he has had conversations with the Linkages Council in the Ministry of Tourism or the hotels or the JMEA to push for the linkages initiative to work better, he told the Business Observer, "There's a lot of hard work that has gone into it, but I think there could be more done from I would not just say from the hotelier side, but also from the manufacturer side, where I think some real push needs to be done in this area."
Though Azan said the issue of tourism linkages has received some fanfare and media, he believes it hasn't gone beyond being a talk shop.
"When you look at the brass tacks of it, a lot of these hotels operating here in Jamaica that have their overseas office, whether it be in Europe or Spain or whatever country that they're operating in, a lot of them are still buying from their domestic market and they may be buying for their European hotels for a particular manufacturer. What they do is send the same order for the same mattresses or the same pieces of furniture that they would order for that particular hotel, and I understand why," the Boss Furniture head explained.
"But I think when you're operating in a country like Jamaica and you're operating on our beaches and building these hotels and investing in our country and getting a lot of incentives, that there should be some push to help the domestic side of the country to help create employment or whatever they buy locally," he argued.
While Azan conceded that the foreign hotel chains' investment in Jamaica has had a positive impact on the economy, he believes there needs to be more "trickle-down effect" that will redound to more voluminous local orders that can drive growth of agriculture and manufacturing. He pointed out, for instance, that if hotels were to order meat or vegetables from local farmers, then the agripreneurs can be in a better position to make projections about demand and the agricultural inputs they would need, instead of an "ad hoc way of doing business".
He expressed gratitude for the support of the Hendrickson-owned Courtleigh Hospitality Group and the Issa-owned Spanish Court and S hotels for consistently supporting his furniture business, as well as other local manufacturers, reiterating the indirect effects of creating jobs and saving foreign exchange.
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