Finally, a bit of good news for Jamaica. We refer to Thursday's announcement by Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill that a new wave of tourists is coming to the island from Russia and other destinations in Europe, including Scandinavia.
This dose of optimism could not have come at a better time. Hurricane Sandy battered Jamaica's east coast and left a trail of destruction in its path. All estimates point to a multibillion-dollar repair bill.
It is now common knowledge that Sandy also hammered the United States' Eastern Seaboard. With the effects of the storm commanding belt-tightening, it's safe to say a Caribbean vacation may not be high on people's agenda. This could have a negative impact on tourism, since a huge chunk of visitors to our shores comes from the US.
But as the upbeat minister pointed out at his press conference, visitors from traditional markets like the United States stay an average five nights compared to the average European hotel stay of about 10 nights.
The news of a few thousand more tourists heading to Jamaica comes just as the central bank governor was sounding an ominous note about the country's dire economic situation, which has been exacerbated by Sandy's blow. The governor predicts that the economy will contract by 1.07 per cent. Domestic food prices and fuel are also forecast to rise.
So the prospects of new visitor flows starting January 2013 sounds like the shot in the arm the economy badly needs. Everyone can participate in the tourism bounty, including workers and entrepreneurs in the small- and micro-business sector, who supply goods and services to the sector. Tourism is far more than a hotel and a guest.
more purchasing power
The weakness of the Jamaican dollar, while bad for the local population, is one of the country's greatest magnets. The appreciation of most major currencies against the Jamaican dollar may see tourists purchasing more goods and services.
Tourism continues to be one of the few bright spots in the economy even when critics predicted the worst. The industry has consistently performed well, confounding critics by making an important contribution to gross development product. To demonstrate the depth of performance by the sector, data emerging from a study commissioned by the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association reports that tourism accounts for 10 per cent of all construction, as well as 10 per cent of the finance and banking sector, 20 per cent of manufacturing and 21 per cent of utilities.
The travel and tourism industry is fiercely competitive, and it is to the credit of our marketers and the consistent quality of the hotel industry that Brand Jamaica has been able to attract visitors.
Despite all the positives related to the attractiveness and natural beauty that the country has to offer, Jamaica will not realise its full potential as a tourist destination until we come to grips with the crime monster.
The high murder rate and increasing violence for which Jamaica has become notorious is a great impediment to the growth of this industry. So while we welcome the new visitors, we also need to urgently deal with the many internal challenges that plague our daily lives in order to guarantee a sustainable future in tourism.
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