Tue | Nov 20, 2018

Jamaica looks to Airbnb for tourism bonanza

Published:Wednesday | April 11, 2018 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju/ Gleaner Writer
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett (left) is greeted by Carlos Muñoz, head of public policy, Central America and the Caribbean, Airbnb Inc. The occasion was the launch of Airbnb Kingston’s host club at Devon House yesterday.

Jamaica's failure to embrace and fully participate in Airbnb, a web-based directory of bed and breakfast-type vacation properties, which is redefining the global tourism product, will result in the country missing out on vast economic benefits to be tapped, according to Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

He blamed policymakers throughout the years for the continued dependence on traditional sources of foreign-exchange earnings, long after they had outlived their usefulness, as a major hindrance to achieving sustainable economic growth.

"We lost our way as an economy, settling heavily on the commodities that were the product of the colonial experience," Bartlett argued. "So we spent too much time on sugar, bananas, citrus and all other commodities, long after we had lost competitive advantage, long after we were able to produce and satisfy a global market.

"Yet, we were still holding on to it without understanding that a change had taken place in the marketplace and we must respond to it," he told the gathering at the official launch of Kingston as the first Airbnb host club in the Caribbean yesterday.

According to Bartlett, a similar mistake was made with the overdependence on the bauxite sector for which the country paid dearly after international market forces shifted and prices fell.

"Tourism is in that similar space of transition and the disruptions of which we speak are the symptoms of it. Jamaica must be at the cusp now of understanding this change and respond to it, or we are going to be left behind, and we will become hewers of wood and drawers of water," Bartlett told his audience at the east lawn of Devon House in Kingston.

 

Jamaica's warmth reason for Airbnb's arrival

 

Carlos Munoz, head of public policy at Airbnb Inc, Central America and the Caribbean, told The Gleaner that the natural warmth and friendliness of Jamaicans were major factors in the company's decision to give the country the signal honour of establishing the first Airbnb host club in the Caribbean.

"On the one side, Government has been tremendously receptive to the concept of Airbnb and home sharing in general as a way to diversify the tourism product that Jamaica offers. Also, it allows for more everyday Jamaicans to participate in the tourism industry," MuÒoz explained.

While the launch was staged in Kingston, Munoz said the long-term plan was for more branches to be launched in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio and other resort areas, as needs dictate, in the long run.

 

SETTING THE STANDARD

 

Jamaica represents the "standard that we hope to apply throughout the region in terms of openness, willingness to collaborate, and then having an organised host committee that is excited to share best practices, network, in terms of opportunities to promote each other's products, and to grow as a community. Airbnb is tremendously exciting", he added.

Havanah Llewellyn, president of the Jamaica Home Sharing Association, put into perspective the game-changing potential of the tourism dynamic.

"Airbnb is probably one of the single most important things that's happened to Jamaica in the last 50 years," said Llewellyn. "The tourism sector is now inclusive and you are looking at the little guy participating in what Jamaica is about, the people. That's what we're known for. Sand and sun, all that is great, but it's really about our people. Now you get an opportunity to really interact with our people," she said.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com