Ronald Mason | What if, Jamaica?
There are a number of events set to occur in the near future, none more important in the short term than the UK's vote on its future with the European Union set for next Thursday, June 23. We face this unknown because we have a history of more than 300 years with the UK, but we are in total darkness, at this point, about what Britain's leaving the European Union would imply for Jamaica.
What we do know with some certainty is that we will be affected. Here I quote from David Jessop in his Gleaner column of February 14, 2016: "Although Brexit may seem a distant issue, the Caribbean could be affected in a number of ways. These include uncertainty and a possible negative impact on trade and development flows; a diminution in the region's ability to influence thinking on its policy concerns in Europe; a specific range of uncertainty as Britain's foreign trade and development policy is reoriented."
All of this must lie in the realm of uncertainty, but if one were to evaluate the prospects for commodities, especially banana and sugar, there may, in fact, be a silver lining in going back to the future. Recall that in the heyday of King Sugar and green gold, we were trading with Britain, not the European Union. When the Europeans subsumed Britain, we were on the outside looking in.
It is interesting to muse that we could have a trade policy that would be geared to the needs of bilateral parties without the encumbrances of the CARIFORUM economic partnership agreement and the demands of Central and Latin American countries.
It has been said the UK has limited trade negotiating capacity, but I don't find this very persuasive. With a developed economy and a significant population base, 80-plus million, it would generate significant demand, especially when one views this from a nationalistic, Jamaican prism. Not fond of Caribbean Free Trade Agreement. Is it far-fetched to think of a move that would allow Britain's manufacturing interest to create value-added out of our bauxite, with access through the Caribbean Basin Initiative and the proximity to the USA market of 330 million people to gain advantages, while direct negotiations with Washington may be difficult given that it is strongly in favour of Britain remaining in the EU. We need to give these things the appropriate thought and consideration and we head to what of June 23, 2016?
FILTH AND DECADENCE
Last week, the Sectoral Debate on tourism was conducted in our Parliament. The presentation has given rise to thoughts in the 'what if' arena. What if Jamaica were to become really serious about tourism? What if we were to make policy determined that the Government would get its share of the tourist dollar, primarily from direct taxes or from large-scale employment of our people trained in the industry of tourism and hospitality. Import policies for the inputs to the industry. Building and refurbishing properties, in bond trading of a significant level, to generate a greater share of the tourist dollar spend remaining in Jamaica and products within the industry which cater to the world's greatest source of tourists, namely, China.
What if we were to make tourism more feasible and attractive for our young people to prepare for careers in the industry? Make tourism an industry with its multitude of skill demands: a readily available workforce with multiple languages, transportation systems that come with the requisite training; 24-hour availability; courtesy; and knowledge.
Make customer service a hallmark, distinct from servitude. We have all the foundational requirements - not just sea, sand and sun - but culture, art and entertainment, history, nature and ecology and beauty unsurpassed anywhere in the world, not to mention the most delectable cuisine with identifiable morsels of goodness.
I consider myself very fortunate to have travelled the world and Jamaica is truly the Garden of Eden, but dirty and packaged in crime and corruption and left to fester in the dump. What if? However, there is no national plan for the industry.
The aspiration and goals - 15,000 more rooms in the next 5 years, increase in the tourist spend and the addition of 87 warm bodies to be visible during daylight hours in the tourist areas. No national plan to bring crime under control. No national plan for first-class infrastructure to facilitate exploration. We pride ourselves on incrementalism and mediocrity of a tourist product affixed like a postage stamp on an envelope of filth and decadence. If we cannot control crime, at least let the crime be committed in a clean environment. Spend the Tourism Enhancement Fund to make your product incrementally better, rather than advance political shenanigans. There are plans, but like everything else in Jamaica, talk is cheap and action is non-existent.