Fri | May 25, 2018

Wykeham McNeill | Tourism today demands more

Published:Friday | January 19, 2018 | 12:00 AM
Wykeham McNeill

For tourism interests, 2017 was a relatively good year, and this trend is poised to continue in 2018, largely because Brand Jamaica remains strong, we have attractive indigenous product offerings, and we have the best tourism workers in the world as has been demonstrated by the numerous awards secured by our destination. However, all is not well in the state of Jamaica's tourism, as programmes critical to its growth and development have either been delayed or cast aside entirely.

As I have repeatedly advocated, tourism cannot be solely about bringing visitors to our island but must also be about the impact it has on our development and on the lives of our people. To this end, two of the programmes initiated, developed and almost completed have been left to languish over the last two years. These are the pensions for tourism workers and the beaches programmes. The former, a programme to ensure that every tourism worker across the industry not just in the hotel sector but including attractions and the transportation sector, would benefit from a contributory pension scheme that would give them security in their later years. This programme has been treated with lethargy. We were on track to take the legislation to Parliament in 2016 and for the scheme to be launched in January 2017. However, this programme, important as it is, has suffered from multiple missed deadlines, and the enabling legislation still has not been brought to Parliament two years later. Meanwhile, we saw a massive extravaganza in Montego Bay with the staging of the party of all parties that cost the Jamaican people in excess of $150 million to bring only 250 overseas delegates, roughly half a million dollars each. Questions asked about the expenditure and attendance regarding this event remain unanswered. Jamaicans still want to know the final bill for that affair. The second programme that has remained dormant is the beaches project. A programme intended to secure access to some of the best beaches across Jamaica for the use of our people in perpetuity, so that even with development taking place, future generations could always enjoy what our island has to offer.

In the last year of the previous administration, three beaches were opened - Burwood in Trelawny, Boston in Portland, and Lyssons in St Thomas - and another three were slated for 2016. Unfortunately, since then nothing! Commitments given but no action. The funding for this and other programs should be provided by the Tourism Enhancement Fund. Could it be that a significant part of the problem is that this fund has been redirected to the consolidated account against the wishes of the sector and the predicted outcome has now become a sad reality? As we move forward into 2018, let us ensure that programmes previously initiated and that are important to the Jamaican people are put back on the front burner. If programmes like these and others are not implemented, hopes of economic growth and prosperity for all will remain simply a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained.

- Dr Wykeham McNeill is shadow minister of tourism. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.