Gabrielle Wood: Tourism's Untapped Potential
Jamaica is blessed with many industries that contribute to its overall economic growth. But I believe more attention should be placed on the tourism industry and its potential to grow the economy in the right direction.
We are fortunate to have something that money cannot buy - natural beauty. So if tourism is efficiently and sustainably expanded and maintained, Jamaica's economy will reap the benefits of these blessings for years into the future.
The tourism industry has the capacity to incorporate the output of many different industries as the 'ingredients' for its end product. Keeping these inputs locally will spur economic growth in all of these other sectors.
Jamaican workers are in demand for their skills and work ethic, qualities that not many countries can boast at this time. But at the other extreme, Jamaica has had only one per cent growth per year in the last 30 years, earning us the reputation of having the slowest growing economy in the Caribbean. Significantly, youth unemployment is twice the national rate at 38 per cent.
The tourism industry can contribute more to economic growth if more young people are hired, thereby decreasing our chronic unemployment rate and helping to stimulate economic growth. These workers could be employed in industries such as agri-processing, entertainment and sports.
The smaller industries mentioned above can be absorbed by the tourism industry to boost the economy. For example, employment in the agri-processing sector allows us to process our raw materials from the different crops grown here. These products can then be bought by the hotels instead of importing them.
In addition, Jamaicans have so many talents that foreigners love to see - and copy. Our impact on the music industry is something that cannot be quantified or overlooked.
We are the home of world-famous Bob Marley, considered one of the most influential artistes of the last century. Jamaican singers/songwriters like Jimmy Cliff, Beenie Man, Shaggy and Sean Paul often top global charts, exporting our music globally.
But there are many more local performers who would gain experience and well-needed wages from jobs in the tourism sector that would expose them to a foreign audience.
The island is also blessed with an unending supply of talented athletes who sometimes go unnoticed, but who are capable of participating in games that show off their skills on the world stage.
Additionally, Jamaica has a reservoir of cuisine, dancers, painters, craftsmen and other talented artisans from whom tourists can gain fulfilling experiences during their visits.
With these additions to the workforce, hotels would be able to better accommodate more guests. The resulting domino effect would see more people earning, reinvesting and having increased purchasing power.
The Ministry of Industry, Investment, Agriculture and Fisheries has the potential to capitalise on the possible benefits if it focuses on job creation for the large pool of unemployed Jamaicans. We would have fewer idle people on the streets, leading to fewer reasons for them to engage in violence and crime.
With agriculture, entertainment, investment, sports, culture and entertainment working in harmony, tourists can experience Jamaica's full potential. Unemployment stagnates growth and leads to violence, crime and poverty, and the ultimate result is that the entire country is affected.
There is hope; I believe our solution lies with tourism, which can unleash numerous untapped opportunities for Jamaica's desperately idle hands. The ball is in the Government's court. Let's see how well they play it.
- Gabrielle Wood is a student of economics and finance at McGill University.