Wykeham McNeill | Clearing the fog on tourism figures
Occasionally, it is important to put facts on the table, especially in an age when we are bombarded with fake news daily.
In a recent newspaper article, claims were made that when the current minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett, took over in March 2016, the Canadian market was down 17 per cent and that he had left that market at 390,000 arrivals back in 2011. The implication here is that the Canadian market fell off dramatically in his absence and only magically rose again after he personally visited Canada last year.
For the record, when this minister first came to office in late 2007, he inherited a very strong Canadian market that started seeing explosive growth in 2005 with the opening of a number of new Spanish-owned hotels. These newly built hotels at the time were all brands with which the Canadian market was very familiar, so it follows that there would be significant increases in Canadian arrivals to Jamaica.
The minister left office at the end of 2011 and the arrivals from Canada were 379,000, not 390,000, as the minister has been saying.
The strong growth from Canada continued under the new administration up to 2014 when Jamaica had its best year ever from Canada with 420,000 arrivals. Mr Bartlett was in Opposition at that time.
The Canadian economy went into recession in 2015 primarily because of the sharp downturn in oil prices, and this resulted in a decline in Canadian visitors to the entire Caribbean region. The recession carried over into 2016 winter, as did the decline in Canadian visitors. In Jamaica's case, the recovery in Canadian arrivals started in July 2016 and has continued to do so in 2017.
Apart from the fact that the Canadian economy has been recovering, the other primary reason Jamaica has been doing so well from Canada is the increase in new rooms that, once again, the minister inherited. Some of these new rooms are hotels like RIU Reggae; Royalton Blue Waters and Royalton Negril, both of which are part of the Sunwing group, a major Canadian airline and tour operator; additional rooms at Bahia Principe and Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach, another hotel that has a major partnership with Transat, another Canadian tour operator. These are the facts with regard to Canada.
FOUR MILLIONTH VISITOR
Indications are that in the next few days, the minister will be announcing to great fanfare the arrival of our four millionth visitor to Jamaica for the first time in one year. While this is something for which all Jamaicans should be proud, it needs to be understood that this number will be made up of approximately 2.3 million stopover and 1.7 million cruise arrivals. Stopover arrivals are what have always been used to measure tourism performance.
Despite that, I hope the minister, in making his announcement, will point out that this success is due, in large part, to the investments garnered and the foundation laid prior to his time, which resulted in more than 2,500 new rooms coming on stream in the last year and a half. These investments, along with others left on the books to be fulfilled, form part of the largest wave of investments ever seen in our tourism industry. We do hope that the minister will acknowledge this and build on it, not just claim it.
It is time we all recognise that the gains from tourism must positively impact our communities, as the linkages are vital to the sectors survival.
- Wykeham McNeill is opposition spokesperson on tourism. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.