It’s fair to say Jamaican tourism has flourished under the leadership of Edmund Bartlett, the country’s tourism minister. Targeted tourism initiatives enacted by Bartlett after his return to the minister’s office in 2016 (Bartlett also served as tourism minister from 2007 to 2011) have helped accelerate arrivals growth and have Jamaica poised for another record year.
In addition through his recent establishment of the Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Bartlett’s tourism leadership extends beyond Jamaica and the Caribbean. The Centre offers an unprecedented response resource for destinations challenged by disruptions ranging from severe weather to pandemic threats.
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We spoke this week with Bartlett to discuss his views on global tourism and Jamaica’s flourishing visitor arrivals.
TP: You’re known for possessing an international tourism perspective. What are your observations about global tourism, which faces threats ranging from political uncertainty to climate change?
EB: The tourism industry is very resilient. And that resilience enables it to respond to global shocks in a far more positive way than other industries. The reality is tourism grows after shocks even faster than before the shocks. In the last 50 years we’ve had three mega-shocks that have jolted global economies and damaged industries.
The SARS pandemic curtailed travel extensively. But immediately after we got over that, tourism grew exponentially. The next one was the 9/11 terrorist attack which again curtailed travel, and after that tourism grew even more. The third one was the economic meltdown of 10 years ago, which created disruption all across the world. Tourism bounced back and grew at twice the rate that was projected. Tourism today is growing at six percent, which is about 60 percent ahead of where the projection was.
TP: How significant is tourism globally?
EB: Tourism represents 10 percent of global GDP; one in eleven jobs in the world is derived from tourism. In our own Caribbean space, tourism is now providing one in five jobs. We see tourism as the industry of the future.
TP: How has Jamaica in particular fared in this environment?
EB: The growth in stopover [overnight] arrivals in Jamaica is now in double digits. This year we will eclipse all records in terms of [annual] visitor arrivals. Already for the year we have 133,000 more visitors compared with last year, and we are easily trending toward 250,000 or more. We’re quickly closing in on [growth of] five million visitors in five years, and Jamaica’s tourism earnings are growing at a faster rate than arrivals.
TP: As Jamaica’s resort and tourism infrastructure continue to grow, how will the Ministry ensure sufficient human resources are in place?
EB: For the first time we’re developing a program for an associate degree in high schools. You can graduate from the high school system in Jamaica with an associate degree in customer service or hotel management, and then make the transition into the industry with a learning curve that is not as steep. All of that is to remove this casual work mentality that has prevailed for years, with jobs characterized by low pay and weak job security within the industry.
We are establishing a worker’s pension that covers everybody who works in the [tourism] industry. This is a huge landmark. It’s not about a single company having a plan it’s a [government] plan that covers all of the moving parts, the guy that moves luggage at the airport to the guy that has a fried fish shop to guy who sells curios.
TP: Caribbean destinations, including Jamaica, have faced scrutiny in recent years regarding issues surrounding safety and security. How have you managed these issues while keeping the country’s arrivals growing?
EB: We have been resilient because we have these underpinnings. This is not to say you won’t have disruptions, but it is to be able to manage and withstand these disruptions and to recover and thrive.
TP: You have worked personally to establish an unprecedented resource in the Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre. What is the organization doing?
EB: The Global Tourism Resilience & Crisis Management Centre is an institutional mechanism that is all about developing a repository of knowledge, data and information on best practices that can help tourism-dependent countries that are vulnerable to disruptions and are weakly resourced. So their recovery is always going to be suspect.
A good case in point is Haiti. You had a major earthquake 10 years ago and their recovery is still near zero. Puerto Rico, with all of the American support, is struggling to overcome the 2017 hurricanes. So how do we create the institutional framework that enables [destinations] to re-build tourism-dependent regions?
We have been using the Centre to create relationships with a whole range of providers of tourism assets, from financial resources to projects they are doing that can be aligned with our aims to intellectual assets that can be applied to give us more capacity to train. We are excited about the prospects of what the Centre is going to do for tourism in general.