George Davis | Tourism, terrorism and Jamaica's big chance
The tourism minister, Ed Bartlett, and his team appear to have made a good start to things, announcing several plans and initiatives as they look to drive growth in this most crucial of sectors.
The press office at the ministry has been whirring with activity since Bartlett's return, churning out an average of three releases a day over the past eight weeks. But as busy as the team seems to be, there hasn't been much said about a defined strategy to entice visitors from markets beyond the traditional feeding ground of the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Without being mean-spirited, much of what has been announced already by the Bartlett ministry appears to be from the same playbook that has our tourism sector growing by three and four per cent per annum while our rivals in the Caribbean gallop along at double digits. They're raking in the foreign exchange that is attendant with increased visitor arrivals, length of stay, and quantum of spend.
Worryingly, I see nothing to suggest that the country is preparing itself to capitalise on the massive opportunity in tourism, presented by the actions of terrorists in some of the traditional vacation hotspots.
Terrorism had a chilling effect on global tourism in 2015, with the sector growing by only 0.8 per cent, compared to 2.3 per cent in 2014. Last year, the global tourism sector pulled in US$6.1 billion in revenue, a 15 per cent decline from 2014.
REAL AND PRESENT FEAR
A significant part of the reason for this fall-off is that persons, especially from Western Europe, with disposable income or a credit card who would have been expected to buy vacations in places such as Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Paris and, of course, Brussels, opted not to, given the real and present fear of being attacked by terrorists inside their hotel rooms or on the beaches of their all-inclusive resorts.
These are not examples plucked from the air. The year 2015 was rife with incidents of that nature, which not only forced the raising of the global terror threat, but also turned some traditional tourist hotspots into no-go zones. Tunisia alone recorded a 54 per cent drop in tourist arrivals in 2015, largely prompted by the killing of 38 vacationers, mostly British, inside the tourist resort at Port El Kantaoui by Islamist gunmen. Turkey's tourism sector, which contributes north of US$30 billion to the economy per annum, took a major blow last year because of the escalation of the conflict with Kurdish separatists in the southeast of the country.
So the question then is this: With so much money being taken out of some of the most famous destinations in the world in recent months, what are tourist-dependent markets like Jamaica doing to bring in those vital US dollars? Where is the marketing strategy, tailored for those who would normally trek from all over Europe and North America to parts of Africa and the Middle East, to buy that vacation in Jamaica?
This is an opportunity not to be missed, and the minister, the director of tourism, and their team cannot have any excuses about failing to capitalise on the unrest in other markets. Yes, Jamaica has a significant crime problem. But even here it's almost impossible to conceive of Islamic fanatics brandishing assault rifles and storming an all-inclusive resort, killing foreigners at will. Based on the atrocities committed in some of the countries mentioned earlier, that's the real fear confronting many of those who would vacation outside of their home country.
Tourism takes longer to bounce back from an outbreak of disease, environmental disaster or political upheaval than violent crime. But experts are only now measuring the impact of terrorism on tourism and the early results suggest that impact could last for years. Despite the efforts of the murderous bastards among us, we are not deemed to be a place where terrorists are likely to commit mass killings.
I urge Minister Bartlett and his team to hit the road now. There are billions of US dollars to be made.