Tue | Oct 24, 2017

Tourism competitiveness declining, governments urged to diversify

Published:Wednesday | June 28, 2017 | 12:00 AMMcPherse Thompson

 

The declining competitiveness of the Caribbean tourism model means that the Jamaica government should look to diversify from the all-inclusive model into new types, World Bank lead economist Phillip Schuler has suggested.

At the same time, World Bank Country Manager, Galina Sotirova said the feedback she has been getting is that the high standards set by the government for entry by smaller players in areas now preferred by tourists are obstacles for the development of those products.

Although the Caribbean is a very tourism-dependent region it is growing but slower than the world as a whole and especially in Asia, the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa where there is much faster growth in tourism investment and the expectation of faster growth in tourism gross domestic product, Schuler said.

“The model of tourism in the Caribbean and also in Jamaica is one that is very much focused on enclave all-inclusive beach resorts and that is not a fast growing segment of the world’s tourism market,” he said as he presented the Bank’s June 2017 Economic Developments and Outlook via videoconference from Washington, DC on June 21.

Identifying eco-tourism, cultural-tourism and farm-tourism as examples into which Jamaica can diversify, Schuler said it is “all these hyphenated versions that people feel have a more authentic experience and are willing to shell out a lot more money for,” adding that “those segments of the market are growing more rapidly.”

While noting that the Jamaican economy has been moving along a positive trajectory, Schuler said the declining competitiveness of the tourism model in the Caribbean is a long-term risk for the region, including Jamaica.

Asked to elaborate on the diversification in tourism, Schuler said there are lots of opportunities and that the changes “reflect, I think, some changing demographics. The generation that’s getting older now and travelling less were the ones that like cruise tourism, all-inclusive resorts.”

The younger generation or the millennials are looking for more authentic kinds of experiences. He identified among them farm/agricultural tourism which tourists are interested in visiting, cultural tourism, ecological tourism, food tourism/cooking schools where they can learn how to cook Jamaican food.

“So there are new kinds of products. It’s also the different kinds of ways that tourists are making their arrangements,” he said.

In the past, Schuler said, many people would either go to a travel agent to arrange a package and arrangements made for them to undertake different activities in the resorts but tourist expenditure was not spilling over to other parts of the economy.

“People are moving away from that and doing more things on their own, using social media to find out where to go, using things like Caribbean Beat. This opens up a lot of opportunities. At one time a small island in the Caribbean might feel that it’s at the mercy of a few big international tourism firms, travel agents, resort chains,” but with the changes “I think it allows smaller businesses to get into the game in countries like Jamaica.”

Sotirova, noting that in Jamaica the biggest part of tourism is all-inclusive, said there are opportunities for diversifying the product taking into consideration the country’s music, cuisine, beautiful mountains that are completely untapped, as well as the human, cultural and natural resources.

Addressing the issue at the Bank’s office in New Kingston also on Wednesday, she said that within the Rural Development Initiative there are projects that are rural eco-tourism such as caving in Cockpit Country and a Rasta Village in St. James, “and what you can see is that there is a lot of potential there but there are also a lot of things that need to be done to facilitate the development of those initiatives.”

The Rural Economic Development Initiative is aimed at improving market access for micro and small-scale rural agricultural producers and tourism product service providers.

Sotirova said that one of the things she has heard from project managers in the eco and rural tourism is that the standards those operators have to meet to be licensed by the Tourist Board are not suitable for the type of tourism in which they are interested.

“The standards are so much tailored to the big tourist resorts,” she said, noting that fire standards and security, for example, were very high.

“This is the real obstacle for the development of those small tourism projects that actually have huge potential to bring tourists,” the country manager said.

She said that although the Rasta Village and Cockpit Country are on TripAdvisor and they are getting very high marks from the people who visit they still have a problem getting the contacts and the coordination with the big hotel chains which might be sending tourists. TripAdvisor is an American travel website company providing reviews of travel-related content.

Sotirova said there are regulatory issues that need to be addressed and believes the government is aware “and looking at those things and we are also working with them to try to help.”

mcpherse.thompson@gleanerjm.com