May 23, 2024

‘The pandemic has emphasized the need for multi-destination tourism’: Edmund Bartlett, Tourism Minister of Jamaica


Ever dreamt of a vacation on a Cruise Liner. Chances are, the moment the word Cruise linear was mentioned, the first destination that must have crossed your mind are the Caribbean islands. A massive region located in the Caribbean sea that consists of  13 sovereign states and 17 dependent territories. Among the most visited regions are the Cayman islands, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Jamaica.

While Cuba is all about the beaches and the cultural experience, the Cayman Islands are known for their coral reefs. Haiti and Dominican Republic are famous for their diverse geographical gifts. Puerto Rico is a favourite among the US and European tourists for its vast scenic landscape. Jamaica is one archipelago that boasts of giving a glimpse of the rich cultural and diverse natural beauty of the Caribbean islands. The homeland of Reggae music is home to around 2.8 million people with major cities including Kingston, Montego Bay and more.

Edmund Bartlett, Honourable Minister of Tourism for Jamaica

We spoke to Edmund Bartlett, Honourable Minister of Tourism for Jamaica, who was on a tour of the Jamaican Pavillion at the ongoing Dubai Expo 2020. In his 40+ years of political career, Minister Bartlett has donned multiple hats, including that of a legislator in Central government in both Chambers of Parliament and has handled several ministerial portfolios for the country. Since this award-winning public servant is currently overseeing the overall development of Jamaica’s tourism industry, International Business Magazine procured an exclusive opportunity to interact with him and understand what Jamaica has to offer beyond the adventure activities and the cultural experience.

What tourism means to Jamaicans?

As per the latest reports, Jamaican tourism has a 9.8 percent share in its GDP. The sector represents 12.6 percent of the total labour force of the country. Although Jamaica has its own official currency, Jamaican dollars, it does support trade through the American dollars as well. Reportedly, the foreign direct investment for the tourism sector in 2019 was USD 120 million. This figure came down to 86.3 million USD in 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Sources have confirmed that in 2019, Jamaica saw a total of 4,234,150 visitors, which leads to a tourist per resident ratio of 1.44. As per a UNWTO report, the Caribbean islands have the strongest level of recovery and Jamaica was the number one country in that regard.

Image credits: (Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica)

We opened our interaction with Minister Bartlett on the topic of COVID-19 pandemic. He explains, “Jamaica was the first country to develop a set of protocols after the WHO declared the pandemic. Even before that, we had established the first and only global world tourism crisis and resilience management centre (GTRCMC – Global Tourism Resilience and crisis management centre). It was established in 2018. It was developed on the basis of a panel conference in 2017 on sustainable tourism development declared by the United Nations. Out of that, we had something called the Montego Bay declaration which highlighted three key outcomes.”

In 2017, A 15-point Declaration had emerged from the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Global Conference on Sustainable Tourism held in Montego Bay in November, 2017. The Declaration pushed for the establishment of a Global Tourism Resilience Centre in the Caribbean, including a Sustainable Tourism Observatory, to assist destinations’ preparedness, management and recovery from crises that impact tourism and threaten economies and livelihoods. The other key developments from the Declaration were about protecting the environment, promoting innovation and supporting job creation.  Minister Bartlett went on talking about the Montego Bay Declaration, “GTRCMC is an institute that could respond to any kind of situation. It can anticipate it, manage it and then quickly recover from it. The Montego Bay Declaration also opened up opportunities for destination tourism through greater value propositions for visitors. It enabled long-haul traffic to come into our space, which maximized their experience. It was also fundamental in improving the capacity of the small and medium enterprises that form 80 percent of the operational structure of tourism but receive only 20 percent of the returns.”

Image credits: (Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica)

Far away land, yet close to all

Part of the Greater Antilles chain of islands, Jamaica is the third-largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba and Hispaniola. It is located around 1000 km to the south of Miami, Florida. It is majorly connected to around 200 gateways in the US. One of the prime agendas of the Minister in the UAE is to improve the connectivity with Asia, Middle East and Far East countries. It has been revealed that Jamaica is sincerely talking with several countries to forge a multi-destination tourism strategy to tackle the challenges with long-haul travels. Mexico, Cuba, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Columbia have shared their interests towards multi-destination tourism with Jamaica. 

Jamaican Pavilion at Dubai Expo 2020

Minister Bartlett revealed, “We are looking to enable easier and more seamless access into our destination through single visa regimes and those types of travel facilitation. The COVID-19 pandemic has replaced competition with a new word called ‘Co-petition’. It is time to replace the Red Ocean strategy with the Blue Ocean strategy where we collaborate and establish distinctiveness through collaboration. This way, the visitors will have plenty of choices and access to all.”

An island with an ocean of opportunities

The Jamaican Centre of Tourism Innovation (JCTI), which was launched in 2019 by Minister Edmund Bartlett, dealt with old challenges and brought in new systems, new processes and new methods of managing the industry and creating new experiences that are in line with customer expectations.

The new centre of Innovation has enabled Jamaica to keep up with the latest trends of tourism and even set some new ones. The incubation program at the centre has been inviting new young entrepreneurs and innovators to convert ideas into new value propositions. The minister has confirmed that JCTI has been key in bringing in new investments and capital for Jamaica. 

JCTI Graduation ceremony from 2019

The Montego Bay Declaration has helped the Jamaicans meet the specific demands in tourism and has led to the development of the indigenous artists of the nation. Talented new craftsmen and artists are being trained to deliver and cater to the new trends and supply authentic and original works to the visitors. The government and the banks have released 1 billion Jamaican dollars to be lent out to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMTEs) at affordable interest rates.

Image credits: (Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica)

Minister Bartlett extends his ambitions for the entire archipelago. He says, “We can create constellations of cultural and other experiences of the Caribbean islands and market them under one package. The UNWTO is probably the right platform to pull together the efforts and resources of all the island nations around the world. The Global Tourism resilience and the crisis management centre in Jamaica is attempting to do exactly that. We have several satellite centres, for instance, one in Nairobi in Kenya. It is getting information and providing guidance to countries that are in East Africa and some European countries.”

He further adds, “We are looking at how to bring all the important critical values to tourism-dependent destinations. We are also addressing other broader issues of cybercrime and economic disruptions similar to the 2008 economic meltdown. We are going to see more in terms of managing terrorism and recognizing human trafficking. The ability of countries to manage these issues is going to affect their future development and their effectiveness in the global market.”

In 2022, Jamaica is going to celebrate its 60th year of Independence. Minister Bartlett believes that the prime concern of the government of Jamaica is to build an economy that promotes security and safety for the people. He says that in this digital age, the power of knowledge has been emphasized even more and made every person’s views count. It has set up a level playing field where some of the smallest countries are turning out to be as important as some of the biggest countries of the world. While being part of the ongoing Dubai Expo 2020, Minister Bartlett observed, “This Expo is happening in a context when the world is searching for more information, for better guidance and for better utilization of knowledge.”

Article by Ujal Nair

Also read:

Jamaica: The country with a vantage point for the North and the South Americas



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