After the love – in comes the Lynch-pin
Now that we have finally got over the Obama-Sister P $500-million love-in, isn't it time, we, as did President Obama, ask, "What a gwaan?"
This is the time of year we pat ourselves on the back for having another record winter tourism season. Even the former and current ministers of tourism are prepared to be photographed together. There seems to be a minimum of two yardsticks with which to measure our success: the first being earnings quoted in US dollars (gross earnings for 2013-14 were announced as US$2.3 billion), and the second, the increase in stopover arrivals.
Just how does this get calculated? If it has been broken down in the press, I have missed it. Tourism industry workers must receive a big slice. Local purchases like foodstuff and beverages, tour bus and taxi operators, roadside vendors, zipline entrepreneurs, jet-ski renters, customs officers, prostitutes, the list is endless, take up a chunk. And don't forget the travel tax.
BREAK DOWN FIGURES
Surely, a substantial portion of those billions goes to the hotel chains - locally and overseas owned - that take their slice out of the island. Which, of course, is true of any domestic supplier like the Jamaica Public Service, Sagicor and Red Stripe, which repatriate their profits to their overseas shareholders. Not that the contribution of these folks should be overlooked. We appreciate their investment, but, please, let's have the earnings figures of the hotel chains broken down so we can see who actually gets what.
Bigger ships and homeporting accounted for a useful increase in cruise ship arrivals. However, these figures could be misleading, as the first depends on how many people leave a cruise ship when it's in port (as many as a third may stay on board). Those who fly into the island to board a cruise ship that makes Montego Bay its homeport may simply transfer from the airport to the docks without spending a cent.
The other potentially misleading factor about the value of the cruise ship passengers is that the lines market their own sightseeing tours and rake off a substantial amount of the revenue that might otherwise have found its way into local hands. Not that the tours visitors take aren't value for money, and they are preferable to being harassed on the streets of Ocho Rios or harangued through the north coast's dreary craft market.
It is also, coincidentally, the year the Jamaica Tourist Board is to celebrate 60 years of successful marketing of the island. Plenty of commemorative activities are being planned for the next six months "to raise awareness about the role that the JTB has played in national development," according to Director of Tourism Paul Pennicook. A lecture series will focus on the history of tourism. Hopefully, this will include the invasion of Jamaica by the Spanish and then the English (who were responsible for bringing over a number of unwilling Africans).
On a historic note, is it possible to lobby for Abe Issa and John Pringle to be made national heroes? Mr Issa, with remarkable foresight, built Tower Isle (now Couples) outside Ocho Rios and was unofficially the first director of tourism. A few of us may remember that he went backstage at the Broadway musical titled Jamaica and hobnobbed with its star, the fabulous Lena Horne, for what is known today as a photo op. John Pringle, the successor to the family of deLisser hoteliers in Montego Bay, brought the glitterati to his Round Hill Hotel and, as director of tourism, inspired unforgettable advertising campaigns.
One aspect that raises a concern in my mind is the 'redesigning' of the Meet The People programme. I seem to
recall this was mildly successful decades ago when we were a more peaceful people. In his presentation at the launch of JTB on its 60th anniversary, Tourism and Entertainment Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill said we have had problems "which can create a negative social impact on the industry". He ain't kidding ... but he puts it so nicely that it sounds like we'll be having yet another symposium at UWI on the subject. If you invite Meet The People people to your yard, just make sure that you don't take them to the wrong place at the wrong time and get the wrong 'Jamaican Experience'. Should we enlist the services of Airbnb, the rapidly expanding accommodation marketer, where you empty your house, apartment, villa, shack for short-term rental? That is when meeting the people might really give cause for concern. Or how about renting rooms at 56 Hope Road (the Bob Marley Museum) where myself and a number of other bachelors once resided. President Obama liked it there, you remember?
One earlier revelation about the tourism industry that caught my eye was a Gleaner headline that read 'Lynch may get $12 million to prepare Venezuelan vacation packages'. I believe the idea is to develop these to offset against the huge PetroCaribe loan we took on for oil before oil became much cheaper. Well, let's hope that President Maduro's supporters have money to spend on holidays, because Venezuelans apparently need all the cash (and time) they can lay their hands on to buy toilet paper and rice.
A former director of tourism, Mr Lynch, according to the news report, can earn up to $12m to provide consulting 'in the area of airlift' and special projects. I don't know much about airlift, although I watched Air Jamaica go from 18 routes to extinction in almost no time at all. We didn't need a suicidal pilot or disappearing planes either.
Swapping vacations for oil is a good start, so let's try that one on Nigeria, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Then again with the world awash with conflict, why couldn't Jamaica advertise all the countries NOT to go to ... Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Chechnya, Gaza, the Spratley Islands. How about "we are Ebola free" (but not chikungunya)? That's a negative tactic, you may say. All right then. How about staging a Cricket World Cup qualifier at the Treasure Beach Sports Ground? I am sure we could get Scotland, Afghanistan and Holland and the West Indies to fight for qualification in the next World Cup.
One attention-getter and visitor-generating gimmick we haven't exploited is the popular Western Europe habit of twinning cities and towns. For instance, why not twin Riverton City with Beijing or Montego Bay with Mogadishu? Once upon a time we could have twinned Port Antonio with Catania in the Mediterranean Sea, but Porty hasn't been the port of choice for any Haitian refugees recently. Apparently, they prefer the Bahamas.
The thing about twinning is that mayors and their relatives can go on overseas junkets at taxpayers' expense. And hope that their twinned city reciprocates.
Okay, so it is over to you, John Lynch, as you seem to be the Lynch-pin to tourism growth. Just a couple of reminders: Get Jamaicans to learn Mandarin, keep Amnesty International out of Clarendon and St Thomas, and, if you really want to please the Americans as well as the Cubans, offer the Goat Islands as a replacement for Guantanamo.
- Anthony Gambrill is a playwright. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.