Attractions sector on the rise
Licensing among tour operators and other attractions has increased rapidly in the last three years, concurrent with the increase in tourist visits, which has fuelled demand for entertainment and tours.
In the past three years, the number of licensed attractions has more than doubled from 32 to 77 - reflecting a growth of 43 or 134 per cent.
Within that period, Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) issued 29 new licensees to market entrants, including 11 last year.
Licences are renewed in three-year cycles, TPDCo said.
"We have been moving towards the development of more community-based enterprises, more home-stay enterprises and more unique types of attractions," said Julian Patrick, director of product development and community tourism. "The new attractions include those using culture and history as a pivot."
Executive Director of TPDCo Dr Andrew Spencer also told the Financial Gleaner that the types of attractions are now more diversified to include greater numbers of heritage products, boat tours and community experiences.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says demand for attractions is being driven by Jamaica's tourism cycle, "which has really bloomed over the last three years, with last year being a record of 4.3 million visitors".
And, as of July of this year, Jamaica recorded 2.5 million visitors and US$1.6 billion in earnings for the sector. For this year's tourism data to July "We are well on track to surpassing three million visitors and to achieve four million again," Bartlett said.
The most recent spending data show that 20 per cent of the monies spent by cruise passengers went to the attractions, an average of US$93.46 in fiscal 2017. Stopover visitors shelled out an average of US$149.42 to attractions, but that was only eight per cent of their overall spending on hospitality services.
$1-billion loan facility
Bartlett, meanwhile, is trying to push attractions operators to subscribe to a $1-billion loan facility on offer from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) through EXIM Bank. The bank has committed two-thirds of the funds to borrowers but is looking for takers for the remaining $350 million.
Tourism entities - even a gardening operation offering services to a hotel, as EXIM's Lenworth Tracey has said - can borrow up to $25 million at 4.5 per cent. The loan is repayable in five years.
Much of Jamaica's hotels are foreign owned - the product of foreign direct investment. But the attractions sector, Bartlett says, offers Jamaicans an opportunity to claim a piece of the lucrative industry. The TEF/EXIM loan, he added, offers the means through which attractions could finance growth of their businesses.
"The point which is important to consider is the whole business of retaining the dollar. The attractions sector is going to be even more important for local players, because this is where the creativity of Jamaicans and the values that we have, our entertainment and culture, gastronomy, and health services will be required," said Bartlett.
"It is a purposeful engagement. These are areas that local people can control," he added.