Editorial | Will the tourism bubble burst?
Encouraging news about more tourists pouring into Jamaica for Christmas could easily be overlooked amid the gloom of murders and mayhem and the anaemic performance by other sectors of the economy. For example, murders are up significantly, road traffic deaths have increased, exports are down, and the dollar is on life support.
How then do we enter 2017 with hope? The first glimmer of hope is signalled by the Planning Institute of Jamaica, which is predicting real GDP growth of up to two per cent for the current fiscal year which ends in March.
Union leaders, O'Neil Grant who heads the Jamaica Civil Service Association and Bustamante Industrial Trade Union president-general Senator Kavan Gayle both want the country to attract investments that can create sustainable employment for more Jamaicans.
These jobs are not in lowly hotel positions or in the BPO sector, which generally dish out minimum wages. The jobs Grant and Gayle are dreaming about will most likely be found in the manufacturing sector and the high-tech industry.
But manufacturing is no longer the powerhouse of yesteryear. Many of our manufacturers have taken flight to Trinidad and Tobago, where the business environment is reported to be more accommodating and energy is way cheaper than it is here. The disappearing manufacturing jobs created a void for former workers. If as the experts say, those jobs are never coming back, the answer has to be that new areas of economic endeavour must be created to absorb the skills of former workers and those who are graduating from institutions.
Based on statistics from the International Monetary Fund World Economic Outlook Database, Jamaica's total GDP figures for 2015 indicate that exports accounted for a mere 4.5 per cent of Jamaica's economic output.
Topping the list of overall exports which represented the highest dollar value in global shipments was inorganic chemicals, ores, beverages, spirits, sugar and coffee. Rounding out the top-10 list was fertilisers at 1.29 per cent of GDP. A glimmer of hope appears for this commodity with good prospects being predicted by the newly formed Ad-Chem company, which recently reported buoyant sales in Trinidad and Tobago.
Jamaica, which prides itself on being an agricultural paradise, has a long way to go in developing its full potential by producing more agri-products for export. The Government must recognise that it has a huge role to play in providing incentives to industry to undertake research and development to create value-added products.
We are pushing these alternatives because of the fragility of the tourism industry. With Jamaica's murder rate soaring, it will not take long before visitors who arrive by cruise ships and aircraft understand that the tourist Mecca of Montego Bay which offers sand, sea and frolic is also a city with the highest homicide rate in the country.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is well known for trotting out glowing figures about occupancy rates and prospects, but we wonder whether he is having a serious talk with his parliamentary colleagues about the troubling rise in murders and articulating the urgent need to find workable solutions to Jamaica's intractable crime problem.
Inaction by the powers may prompt travel advisory warnings from governments concerned about the safety of their citizens which could certainly burst the tourism bubble. It could then wipe the smile off Mr Bartlett's face and place thousands out of work.