Ma­jor Ja­maica con­fer­ence aims to cat­a­pult tourism to cen­tre stage

Stabroek News Sunday - - WORLD NEWS -

In just over a week’s time, Ja­maica will host a ma­jor in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence in­tended to re­po­si­tion tourism as a global driver of sus­tain­able devel­op­ment.

Un­like other in­dus­try re­lated events, ‘Jobs and In­clu­sive Growth: Part­ner­ships for Sus­tain­able Tourism’ will ex­plore how in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, gov­ern­ments, donors and lead­ing in­dus­try play­ers can cre­ate new tourism-re­lated part­ner­ships that foster so­cial in­clu­sive­ness, em­ploy­ment and poverty-re­duc­tion.

The con­fer­ence, which takes place in Mon­tego Bay from Novem­ber 27 to 29, is co-spon­sored by the United Na­tions World Tourism Or­ga­ni­za­tion (UNWTO), the Ja­maican gov­ern­ment, the World Bank Group, and the In­ter-Amer­i­can Devel­op­ment Bank. It will also in­volve new global in­dus­try play­ers such as Airbnb.

The in­ten­tion, ac­cord­ing to Ja­maica’s Tourism Min­is­ter, Ed­mund Bartlett, is to look at the in­dus­try in the round, to en­able those in­volved in pol­icy for­mu­la­tion to see bet­ter the po­ten­tial the in­dus­try has to de­liver devel­op­ment to wider groups in so­ci­ety. He hopes that over three days, the con­fer­ence’s high-level par­tic­i­pants will iden­tify suc­cess­ful ad­vances and ini­tia­tives in tourism from around the world. In this way, he be­lieves, tourism globally can be­come a cen­tral force help­ing de­liver the UN’s sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goals.

For some in the Caribbean the idea of a wider role of this kind for tourism may be chal­leng­ing.

In the past, the sec­tor has tended to be free­wheel­ing, bot­tom-line ori­ented, and at times less than so­cially aware. So much so, that the most com­monly heard crit­i­cism is that de­spite the in­dus­try ac­count­ing for at least 15 per cent of the re­gion’s GDP, di­rectly and in­di­rectly em­ploy­ing around 15 per cent of the re­gion’s work­force, and prob­a­bly con­tribut­ing much more in other ways not sta­tis­ti­cally cap­tured, its im­pact on so­cial devel­op­ment has been lim­ited.

This is be­cause since the 1950s the Caribbean cre­ated a prod­uct that for the most part, is largely con­tained, and is about ho­tels, the beach, or visi­tors ar­riv­ing and de­part­ing within a day by cruise ship. This has meant that most gov­ern­ments, un­til very re­cently, have been pro­mot­ing a prod­uct that is largely one di­men­sional, dif­fer­en­ti­ated only by price, and for them not driven by much more than sus­tain­ing gov­ern­ment rev­enue.

What the Mon­tego Bay con­fer­ence re­flects is a view in­ter­na­tion­ally that tourism can have a much wider role, can de­liver sus­tain­able gains to groups in ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas, and can be de­vel­oped in ways that more closely link it to agri­cul­ture, ed­u­ca­tion, train­ing and cul­ture in its broad­est sense. The think­ing is that tourism’s multi-faceted na­ture and its role in pro­vid­ing sig­nif­i­cant re­source trans­fers from wealth­ier coun­tries and in­di­vid­u­als, if bet­ter or­gan­ised and em­braced, can be­come a sig­nif­i­cant driver of na­tional devel­op­ment.

In Mon­tego Bay, par­tic­i­pat­ing gov­ern­ments, in­ter­na­tional fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tions, and devel­op­ment agen­cies are expected to con­sider how new and in­no­va­tive ap­proaches to in­vest­ment might grow tourism’s eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tion and share its benefits more eq­ui­tably and sus­tain­ably.

In a Caribbean con­text this sug­gests that the mo­ment has ar­rived for all to re­think the sec­tor’s role in the wider econ­omy and the na­ture of the re­la­tion­ship be­tween gov­ern­ment and the in­dus­try.

Above all, tourism as a sec­tor needs to be seen not as some­thing apart, but as hav­ing the po­ten­tial to stim­u­late the many in­puts, ser­vices and skills that mod­ern economies re­quire. To do so it will re­quire trans­lat­ing the chang­ing re­quire­ments of visi­tors for ex­pe­ri­ence and the au­then­tic in ways that sup­port the devel­op­ment of ru­ral and ur­ban ar­eas; de­vel­op­ing new forms of tourism away from the beach; find­ing ways to sus­tain the re­gion’s ver­nac­u­lar ar­chi­tec­ture; and more gen­er­ally fos­ter­ing Caribbean cul­ture and his­tory if des­ti­na­tions are to be unique.

For this to hap­pen a coun­try’s tourism prod­uct in fu­ture will have to do more than gen­er­ate pros­per­ity for large ho­tel own­ers and the cruise ship com­pa­nies. It must stim­u­late sus­tain­able eco­nomic growth in the do­mes­tic econ­omy, by cre­at­ing link­ages and con­ver­gence with other sec­tors.

At its most ob­vi­ous, this means trans­form­ing agri­cul­ture so that it meets not only the tourism sec­tors re­quire­ments for food­stuff, but at the same time is seen as a way to off­set the re­gion’s US$8bn non­tourism food im­port bill. It also re­quires Min­is­ters of Fi­nance and Cen­tral Bankers to un­der­stand bet­ter how in other parts of the world, the in­dus­try has ceased to be a cash cow used to bal­ance bud­gets or to pro­vide foreign ex­change, but has be­come linked to the devel­op­ment of the broader econ­omy, with the sup­port of mul­ti­lat­eral in­sti­tu­tions and the pri­vate sec­tor.

How these and other ob­jec­tives are to be achieved in the re­gion and in­ter­na­tion­ally will be the cen­tral themes at the Mon­tego Bay con­fer­ence.

Ja­maica’s Tourism Min­is­ter hopes that the dis­cus­sions and over­all out­come of the con­fer­ence will re­sult in the in­dus­try be­com­ing cen­tral to in­ter­na­tional devel­op­ment pol­icy, a driver of ben­e­fi­cial change that touches ev­ery­one, and as a ve­hi­cle for de­liv­er­ing the UN Sus­tain­able goals.

He says too, that he would like to see the event en­able the coun­try to po­si­tion it­self as a global tourism cen­tre, where on an an­nual ba­sis in­ter­na­tional and re­gional think­ing on mat­ters re­lat­ing to the devel­op­ment of tourism can take place.

Tourism and travel is now the world’s largest service sec­tor in­dus­try and is con­tin­u­ing to grow rapidly. Ac­cord­ing to the World Travel & Tourism Coun­cil (WTTC) in 2016 it con­trib­uted 3.1% to di­rect GDP growth, out­pac­ing growth in the global econ­omy which grew by 2.5%, it gen­er­ated US$7.6 tril­lion or 10.2% of global GDP, and ac­counted for 1 in 10 jobs in the global econ­omy. It is also the prin­ci­pal eco­nomic driver in al­most ev­ery Caribbean na­tion.

The heavy­weight in­sti­tu­tional sup­port and high level in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Mon­tego Bay con­fer­ence sug­gests that the time has ar­rived for not just the re­gion but the wider world to con­sider the ways in which tourism, a once side-lined in­dus­try, can now move to cen­tre stage to cre­ate benefits for all.

David Jes­sop is a con­sul­tant to the Caribbean Coun­cil and can be con­tacted at david.jes­sop@caribbean-coun­cil.org He will be chair­ing a panel at the con­fer­ence

Pre­vi­ous col­umns can be found at www.caribbean-coun­cil.org

Ed­mund Bartlett

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