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EDITORIAL: Mr Bartlett, tourism and crime

Published:Wednesday | April 21, 2010 | 12:00 AM

SAY WHAT you wish of Edmund Bartlett, he is worthy of the country's congratulations. At the same time, the tourism minister deserves our sympathy.

For these are are not bright times for the world's tourism industry. Last year, global travel declined by 3.3 per cent, following the previous year's growth of 2.3 per cent, before the full bite of the international recession.

Critically, Americans, who are a big chunk of the world's travellers and account for nearly two-thirds of Jamaica's stopover visitors, cut back on foreign excursions. They stayed closer to their homes, enjoying cheaper holidays.

Against that backdrop, Mr Bartlett, building on the efforts of his predecessors, performed creditably. He presided over one of the few sectors of the Jamaican economy that enjoyed growth.

Last year, for instance, stopover arrivals, at 1.83 million, grew by 3.6 per cent. Mr Bartlett and his technocrats project a further rise of six per cent in 2010.

Earning less

Last year's growth, we remind, is in the context of a decline in arrivals at most other Caribbean destinations, including a 15.6-per cent drop in the regional powerhouse of Cancun, Mexico. Of course, Jamaica's hotels had to offer substantial discounts to keep their numbers up and to maintain a room occupancy of around 65 per cent. But to do otherwise would be to risk a collapse of the sector and the loss of a substantial portion of the US$1.97 billion that was earned from tourism in 2009.

Jamaican officials do not expect a price recovery this year. The estimated US$2.06 billion the country will gross from tourism is only two and half per cent better than in 2009. But the rate at which Jamaica is able to price its tourism is not merely the result of the global recession. And here is where we reserve sympathy for Mr Bartlett and, the truth be told, his recent predecessors.

Indeed, even before the recession, Jamaica, on average, earned less per room, lower than many other Caribbean destinations. That, largely, is because of the lower crime, and presumed greater safety, of regional competitors. In basic economics, the market discounts Jamaica's tourism product because of crime, including last year's 1,680 homicides.

Concerned interests

Admittedly, crime against tourists is relatively low in Jamaica and tourism interests have done a good job highlighting the country's positives against the warts of criminality. But that, in our view, is not a sustainable way to ensure the continued survival and growth of the industry which is the country's major earner of foreign exchange, a big employer of labour that thrives on an idyllic notion of Jamaica.

We appreciate the concern of some tourism interests at this newspaper's highlight of Jamaica's crisis of criminality, including close to 500 murders in the first 109 days of this year. But as discomfiting as our campaign may be, it would be worse to do nothing and to call no one to account for their failures.

That, in the end, would be to abrogate our compact with the society and, ultimately, to murder the hard work of people like Ed Bartlett with a thousand jabs. Minister Bartlett should join this campaign by demanding action from his government colleagues, knowing that his sector is not secure if we are not all safe.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: editor@gleanerjm.com or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.