Wed | Jun 28, 2017

Tourism on the move again

Published:Tuesday | September 23, 2014 | 9:00 AM

Published: december 1, 1980

Tourism on the move again

When the Jamaica Labour Party
(JLP) promised deliverance during its recent election campaign, no one
really expected it to be instantaneous, but what has happened to the
tourism industry in the past month has exceeded all expectations.

It
seems that the tourism industry got delivered merely by the results of
the general election and, since then, there has been an outpouring of
goodwill from the people who control the industry, the United States
(US).

Reports are that hotels which had been closed for months
have been opening up their doors and, so far, they have managed to
maintain occupancy rates of 60 per cent.

The winter season is
beginning to look good, and expectations are high. Cruise ships, it
seems have suddenly rediscovered Jamaica as a stop-over point. Within a
week following the elections, three ships docked in Montego Bay, and all
together, a total of 12 ships are expected to anchor in that city by
December 28.

The election results have indeed triggered a new wave
of confidence in the island. Tour operators and travel wholesalers who
were discouraging visitors from vacationing in Jamaica are not willing
to put up the "front money" for an intensive winter promotional
campaign.

The United States press has suddenly become friendly
again, and favourable stories about the island have been making
headlines in that country. In other words, doors that had closed in the
face of Jamaica are suddenly being reopened, but even more than that,
the red carpet is also being laid out.

The US travel wholesalers
summed up the new US mood to Jamaica when they said that their proposal
of J$l million for the promotional campaign was "an expression of
confidence in Jamaica and the new direction in which the country is
moving".

That direction is perceived as being more in line with
American thinking, but even more than that, it is seen as a rejection of
socialism, communism and Castro, and, for the Americans, that is
enough.

Anyone who has ever met Americana must know how paranoid
they are about communism and Castro. This has coloured all their
thinking and actions towards anything remotely communist, hence the very
negative response which Jamaica received when Michael Manley became
"too friendly" with Cuba.


response: september 13, 2014

Taking politics out of tourism

Political rhetoric is a sometimes brutal, but more often amusing art form. It is practised by ministers, elected officials and activists in ways that may seem tribal in their intensity, even shocking to outsiders, but today largely masks only degrees of difference.

It was not always so. In the late 1970s the issues were profound; east-west tensions held every decision captive, causing Jamaica to become a surrogate for the interests of international communism or capitalism; or those that the late Carl Stone described in 1980 as wanting "to make Jamaica fair game for their ideological hunting".

Today, political disagreement and debate are more to do with nuance and strategy; and this is especially the case when it comes to the future fortunes of the island's resurgent tourism industry.

One reason Jamaica has been so successful in developing the sector in the last decade is that, while no politician ever sets aside their party allegiance or philosophy, tourism has benefited from a sense of national interest, and the continuity and commitment of successive tourism ministers, who, for the common good, have largely put the industry and its development above party.

As astute politicians, neither Dr Wykeham McNeill, the tourism and entertainment minister, nor the former minister, Edmund Bartlett, may feel wholly comfortable with this. However, nothing says more about why Jamaica is succeeding in an industry that requires both domestic and international confidence and a long-term national commitment, than a photograph that appeared recently in The Gleaner.

Not only did it show Minister McNeill performing the symbolic groundbreaking of the new Courtyard Marriott Hotel in New Kingston, but there, beaming in the centre of the picture were Edmund Bartlett and the leader of the Opposition and constituency MP, Andrew Holness.

What is perhaps remarkable by Caribbean standards is that over the last few years, both before and after the last election, Jamaica, despite its dire economic situation, has been able to transcend its sometimes negative image to develop a hugely positive tourism brand that has enabled it to attract new investment and reach the landmark figure of two million visitors in 2013.

The extent to which this has happened also says much about the continuity provided over many years by key figures in the tourist board and industry who, despite sometimes different political affiliations, have been respected enough to have been retained in post.

With the island's IMF programme succeeding beyond what many thought possible, and a sense internationally that Jamaica is now a 'hot' destination particularly for young North American and European professionals, tourism has become a catalyst for national growth.

While the industry is not without its problems, for both Government and Opposition to recognise the significance of tourism as a market-led business, and for most Cabinet ministers to understand this, is one of the more externally reassuring aspects of Jamaica's development.

It is now at a point where it needs to take its product beyond sun, sea and sand, and embrace, in a globally competitive way the fact that there is a new generation of visitors interested in sports, educational tourism, nature and culture, who travel for both work and pleasure and seek new experiences.

These are the so-called 'millenials' born between the 1980s and 2000s who, for the most part, have knowledge-based or creative occupations, are now professionally established, and who US industry reports predict will surpass the spending power of the post-Second World War baby boomers.

As an address in June by the chair of the Jamaica Hotels and Tourist Association, Nicola Madden Greig, to the Jamaica Employers' Federation made plain, Jamaica has future potential in areas that might once have been seen as counter-intuitive. She spoke about city tourism in relation to nightlife, culture, music, art, and sports; and Kingston, as the gateway to the different experience of being in Port Antonio, St Thomas, the south coast and the island's rural areas.

All of which is a long way from the world in which Jennifer Ffrench was writing, when tourism had become a tool to be used politically in a struggle in the periphery of the cold war.