Tue | Jul 16, 2019

Beienetch Watson | Jingling away Jamaica’s tourism fortunes

Published:Wednesday | March 20, 2019 | 12:11 AM

It would appear that despite more than half a century of tourism promotion, the Government of Jamaica has not yet learnt how to “get it all right”. Accordingly, despite the onslaught of commercials espousing the virtues of tourism, real questions abound regarding the effectiveness of the media spend.

More so given the fact that while the commercials boast of US$3.8 billion being earned by tourism in 2018, well over US$2 billion of this sum leaked from the Jamaican economy.

Thus, though we may subconsciously hum the infectious jingle “tourism also for you”, we simply cannot disregard Jamaica’s increasing levels of economic inequity and social disparity. Both are likely factors of the foreign-dominated ownership of the island’s industry.

The true success of tourism, therefore, will never be measured by the quantity of television/radio ads. The only real gauge of the industry’s impact is its direct influence on the quality of life of ordinary Jamaicans.

ADVERTISING INCONSISTENCIES?

The Ministry of Tourism certainly seems to have the right messaging in response to the increasing clamour for the diversification of Jamaica’s product, especially if we are to be able to satisfactorily meet the need of an emerging youth market interested in a far more authentic experience. Still, the advertising campaign remains fairly inconsistent with actions on the ground.

Indeed, some of the more recent activities within the capital city suggest that there is need for a comprehensive development plan. The acquisition of a US$8-million floating pier for Port Royal is evidence of this unfortunate reality. Audible is the deafening silence that apparently met the Jamaica Environment Trust’s request for information regarding the plans for the development of the historic town.

Just as troubling was an admission by the CEO of the Port Authority of Jamaica, Professor Gordon Shirley, that an environmental impact assessment had not been completed prior to procuring this rather costly pier, despite established knowledge of the fragility of the area’s ecosystem.

Equally incomprehensible is the question of how the Port Authority could have made this heavy capital investment without adequate stakeholder engagement. Subsequent statements from the Jamaica Chamber of Commerce make their exclusion quite obvious. While reservations persist regarding consultations with the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, the possibility also exists that engagement with the Ministry of Tourism may have likewise been minimal.

Additionally, even as the radio jingles remind us to “come on team Jamaica, we can do it team Jamaica … ”, we are faced with the acknowledgement by Mr Peter Knight, CEO of the National Environment and Planning Agency, that consultations with the residents of Port Royal will be conducted closer to the implementation phase of this project. The mystique of the project has really left onlookers to ponder on its actual potential to “power small businesses” through tourism.

… AND OF BUCCANEERS?

Conceivably, the best security measure will be tourism development that values the creativity of Kingstonians. Present efforts, however, appear to gentrify the space without sufficient thought of how to stimulate enterprise among residents. If this mode of development is left unchecked, we may well see displaced locals take on the characteristics of the notorious buccaneers of yesteryear.

Yet, happenings along Kingston’s waterfront establish the need for a comprehensive development plan for the city. After decades of talk about restoration and renewal, the renovation and expansion of the Victoria Pier have signalled some positive action.

However, in a downtown district marred by poverty and scarred by crime, we must figure out how to ‘treat the locals right’ by creating opportunities for them to earn. Surely, this would be a better optimisation of the resources now being spent to remind us to “treat our visitors right … “.

Regardless of the advertising spend, the exclusion of legitimate forms of indigenous microenterprise from the commercial district will not augur well for tourism. Therefore, why not shift the investment from the current media campaign? Instead, invest in a redoubling of efforts to prepare the residents of Kingston to benefit from the so-called shared economy.

REIMAGINED JINGLES

Promote a restoration of the right of an indigenous population to make a viable living out of small and micro-tourism enterprise. Reignite the city’s nightlife. Provide the cruise ships with enough reasons to dock overnight. Allow for ‘Soupy’ and ‘Jerky’ to earn enough through this ‘passa-passa’ to send his/her children to university. All this as we develop tourism as a viable vehicle of poverty alleviation and reduction. Kingston’s residents would be given structured and carefully crafted prospects to create employment opportunities.

Certainly, in this reimagined Kingston, Jamaicans will work independently for their share of the crumbs from the proverbial tourism pie. Even the ‘exotic’ fruit vendor and jelly man will now be able to earn a liveable wage directly from tourism. The Government of Jamaica will promote tourism as a sustainable vehicle of economic and social transformation.

The Ministry of Tourism and its affiliated agencies will advertise Kingston as a vital source of unmatchable cultural products incapable of being duplicated anywhere else in the world. Commercials will celebrate the pragmatism with which the locals are allowed to deliver an authentic Jamaican experience.

Resources will be allocated to converting community spaces to deliver Patois lessons and cooking classes. The youth will earn from their dance studios, hair braiding shops, fashion lines, and so on.

FACT: The tourism trickle has not cured the island’s development ills. Tourism, for you, must be translated into tangible income-generating opportunities for locals, especially those involved in small and microenterprises. Given our poor levels of retention, one would hope that our policymakers are recoiling from relying on foreign investors to redevelop Kingston’s tourism product.

In order for the current growth impetus to achieve sustainable results, a deliberate approach must be taken to involve a diversity of shareholders in the planning and development process.

More important, a purposeful strategy must be employed to engage micro investors to ensure that we retain at least US$3 billion of the annual earnings from tourism. In short, ‘treat the locals right, they are our friends’.

Beienetch Watson is a lecturer in the College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.