Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
The lack of enthusiasm for local tourism and its capacity to be a viable employment option - views expressed by sixth-form students from two western high schools - has drawn sharp responses from at least two influential players in the sector.
Students of the William Knibb Memorial High School in Trelawny and the Herbert Morrison Technical High School in St James, who were participants in a Gleaner-Island Grill Youth Editor's Forum series, argued that the tourism sector was skewed against academically gifted students and only had room for persons seeking menial jobs.
Reacting to the position taken by the students, Edmund Bartlett, a former tourism minister and a strong advocate for the involvement of locals in tourism, said the students' position might have been influenced by failures on the part of the industry.
"It might very well be that the industry itself is not articulating its position clearly and that elements of its operations are misunderstood," Bartlett told Western Focus. "It also speaks to the need for the teaching of the tourism curriculum in schools so that our students can appreciate it as a valuable option."
William Knibb sixth-former Nastascia Gossel argued that the sector did not support enterprising Jamaicans who have attained above-average academic qualifications. According to her, the need is only for cheap labour as the better jobs are usually reserved for foreigners.
NOT FULLY DEVELOPED
"The industry is not developed properly," argued Gossel. "When people get their degrees and go for employment, hotel managers are usually only seeking cheap labour."
Brent Blair, another William Knibb student, believes the sector does not see locals as the equals of foreigners and that in many instances, what exists, is tantamount to using locals to realise the dreams of foreigners.
While not seeking to bash the students for their views on the sector's treatment of the common man, veteran hotelier Godrey Dyer, a former Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association president, questioned the validity of the students' claim.
"In earlier days, it would be the case that when a tourism worker was serving a local guest, you would see a difference, but that is something of the past," said Dyer. "However, if it does exist, it is something that must be addressed urgently for the sake of the future of tourism."
Davon Crump, president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said while he, too, was concerned about the somewhat negative views of the students, he understood the reasoning behind their thinking.
"We don't necessarily see this as a negative stance," said Crump. "There is some truth that the industry still makes a significant contribution to our country's GDP, but it's also a fact that it has lost its appeal and competiveness in terms of remuneration and upward mobility.
"We have seen in recent years that the ICT sector, with the call-centre component is now probably one of the largest employers of college and university students here in Montego Bay," Crump continued. "With this almost deliberate bias, the Government has focused its support on this growing sector, and this, in our view, is not altogether a good sign for tourism."
Late last year, during a presentation at a University of Technology tourism forum in Montego Bay, former tourism minister, Francis Tulloch, bemoaned the absence of qualified Jamaicans in top positions in the tourism sector and called for room to be created for gifted locals.
"When hotels are built in Jamaica, we must ensure that qualified Jamaicans get a place in those hotels," Tulloch said. "It is very, very difficult to see work permits being granted to people whose jobs Jamaicans could do. Yes, we do get the waiter jobs, we do get some of the bartender jobs, but we don't really get the jobs that matter within the industry."
Like Tulloch, Herbert Morrison sixth-former Kevon Richards thinks the time has come for the Government to partner with academically inclined youth to help them in their quest to hold positions of prominence in sectors like tourism.
"The Government has a part to play," said Richards. "They must invest more in the human capital. The youth are crying out for help, and the Government must answer the call."