MONTEGO BAY, St James — The Inter-American Development Bank's (IDB) Chief of Operations for Jamaica Lorenzo Escondeur has sounded the alarm that if issues related to climate change impact and other emerging challenges are not promptly addressed, "Jamaica's main factors of attraction driving tourism activity" could be jeopardised.
Said Escondeur: "A major challenge that we must focus on is the degradation of natural capital and the environment. We all know that natural capital is a vital component when tourists choose a destination, and all types of tourism depend on environmental factors to secure a pleasant and satisfactory tourism experience."
"Tourism has not yet achieved its full transformational potential. And with the challenges that exist — including environmental degradation, climate change impact, new disruptive technologies, and a rapid change in demand patterns — it is necessary to reconsider tourism policies and investments, and the role of the public sector and multilateral organisations in the sector's development," he added.
In hammering home his point, the IDB executive stressed that in the absence of timely action some endemic animal and vegetation species might be lost, and Jamaica would lose its competitive edge for potential visitors.
Escondeur noted that, unfortunately, human activity and climate change threaten most of the country's biodiversity.
"Increased focus on nature preservation is therefore needed to permit the development of new tourism products and expand the tourism economic footprint beyond current major destinations," he argued.
"Climate change's impact is also an issue of concern, not only for the tourism sector but all Jamaicans. Just last week, Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Senator Kamina Johnson Smith said Kingston could be hit by climate departure later this year," he added.
The IDB official recommended the building of climate resilience by moving forward "with tourism land-use planning by destination, and developing a comprehensive and integrated coastal management framework to boost the sector's competitiveness and sustainability".
"The threat of erosion as well as sargassum proliferation is, unfortunately, deepening by the minute. Finding ways to reduce its impact on the tourism economy would be critical moving forward," he underscored.
He was addressing the opening session of a workshop for the development of a tourism strategy for Jamaica, last Friday at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St James. Speaking at the same event, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett also stressed the importance of environmental sustainability.
"It is a pressing issue that affects our oceans, natural habitats and marine ecosystems. Developing a sustainable approach to tourism means encouraging our visitors, hoteliers and local communities to respect our environment by promoting responsible practices like reducing waste and greenhouse emissions. Implementing green policies within accommodations and attractions is also key in protecting the very resources visitors come to enjoy," Bartlett stated.
Meanwhile, Escondeur argued while challenges exist, there are also opportunities in niche areas such as gastronomic tourism, reggae tourism, and community-based tourism.
"These types of products could help boost the multiplier effect at the sector level, de-seasonalise tourist destinations, and lengthen the average stay," he stated.
He pointed out, for example, that the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Ministry of Tourism have done an excellent job to promote the country's culture, one of its strongest assets. "With more of that work, as well as the tailoring of the legal framework for developing and marketing new tourism products, there is a chance to attract more tourists to Jamaica."
Escondeur, meanwhile, promised that the IDB will continue supporting the Jamaican Government "to design and implement an evidence-based strategy that will guide all public and private sector stakeholders into a new future".
Bartlett expressed pleasure in having the IDB as a technical partner "as we develop a well-defined tourism strategy and action plan that will help us identify the strengths and weaknesses of our tourism industry, chart our goals and objectives, and define the road map to achieve them".