Sat | Sep 23, 2017

Jamaican tourism interests meeting with Japanese coffee traders

Published:Friday | June 3, 2016 | 6:00 AMSteven Jackson
Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism.
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Jamaica wants to stir up business from Japan by marrying two exports - coffee and tourism.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett is meeting this week with interests in Japan, including the Ueshima Coffee Company to discuss plans for a coffee festival in Jamaica his main aim being to boost the number of tourists visiting from Japan.

Jason Sharp, chairman of the Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association (JCEA), generally supports the move but argued that a festival would need to last longer than a single day to pull Japanese tourists to Jamaica.

"A coffee festival could be the start of a coffee week, like in areas like the Napa Valley. The Jamaica Blue Mountains could offer that, but it has to be a holistic event," said Sharp, who is also a director in Coffee Traders Limited, one of the largest processors of Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee beans.

Napa Valley in the United States is famous for its wine and food events.

Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee remains a major brand in Japan, consuming 80 per cent of Jamaica's output. Ueshima is a top buyer of the Jamaican premium coffee.

Bartlett wants to leverage that love of Jamaican coffee into a desire to visit the country that grows the beans.

The tourism minister and his entourage, which includes Director of Tourism Paul Pennicook, will also meet with tourism interests during the visit to Japan in the overall effort to re-engage the market.

The last time Jamaica had a coffee festival was in 2014, when the third Jamaica Coffee and Rum Fest was staged at Baronhall Estate in Cave Valley, St Ann.

It was reportedly a collaboration of the

Coffee Industry Board, Frankfield Coffee Cocoa Co-operative and the Central St Catherine Coffee Growers Association.

Kingston hosted a branded coffee festival around "five to seven years ago" at Devon House, recalled Sharp. It was backed by private interests.

The JCEA is mulling the idea of bringing it back, but has immediate challenges to overcome, among them scarcity of the coffee crop, due in part to disease, and high prices.

Sharp reasoned that any upcoming festival would need to incorporate, in a comprehensive way, the Blue Mountains, as the home base for the event, while also focusing on foods within the environs.

"You have to make it an overall experience so they will leave their country for it," he said.

The Japanese have long been consumers of Jamaican culture, from its music to its luxury coffee, but they no longer need to leave home to experience it.

Now, Jamaica gets one-tenth of the visitors that used to make the trek from Japan.

"Two decades ago, Jamaica received upwards of 20,000 Japanese visitors per annum but that has since declined to roughly 2,000 per annum, due in part to a long economic slowdown in Japan and other factors. However, with the world's fourth-largest economy and a population of over 127 million, still humming along, and over 17 million people travelling overseas every year, I believe we have an opportunity to re-engage Japan on a more sustained basis and increase visitor traffic to Jamaica," said Bartlett.

During his visit to Japan, Minister Bartlett was also scheduled to address the United Nations World Tourism Organization's (UNWTO) Conference on Tourism & Technology in Nara yesterday, June 2.

He will also participate in UNWTO meetings over several days as chair of the board of affiliate members of the UNWTO.

Bartlett and his entourage return to Jamaica on June 6.

steven.jackson@gleanerjm.com