Sun | Mar 26, 2023

Letter of the Day | Time to move on from tourism dependency

Published:Saturday | January 14, 2023 | 12:21 AM


For decades, Jamaica has relied heavily on tourism as its primary source of income, drawing in millions of visitors each year to our lush beaches and vibrant culture. However, as the country looks to chart a new course for economic growth, it is increasingly evident that it is time for Jamaica to move past tourism as its main export.

The tourism industry is no stranger to ethical contention, but, for modern Jamaica, it may be particularly problematic. This island has long struggled with the lingering effects of centuries of exploitation and oppression under British rule. After 60 years of colonial independence, we like to believe ourselves to be a strong and self-determining people.

But, have we really changed?

Forced and indentured servitude has now become low-paid servitude. Foreign visitors, not rulers, are now entitled to the best of our food and the best of our land. All this while wealth disparity widens, and the only obvious solution for those who are needy is to continue to serve.

It seems that our happiness is still tied to the happiness of our economic masters. We have been walking bravely, defiantly ... on a treadmill.

While tourism has no doubt brought economic benefits to the island, it has reinforced these existing power imbalances. Many of the hotels and resorts that line Jamaica’s beaches are owned by foreign corporations, who hire foreign management and send the majority of their profits back to their home countries. This has left us on the sidelines with limited access to the economic benefits of our own labour, never giving us a true avenue for wealth creation.

Another issue is the environmental impact of tourism. With millions of visitors flocking to the island each year, Jamaica’s natural resources are being stretched to their limits. The overuse of our water, beautiful beaches, and other natural resources has led to significant environmental degradation. For many years, this has quietly harmed the quality of Jamaican life, and, if left unchecked, it will give future generations very little to work with.

So, what should Jamaica do instead? A complete shift away from tourism may seem unrealistic and impractical in the short term. But we have the benefit of time. Time to plan for a better future with a new direction, not just a revision of the past. We have other resources we can use that don’t require sacrificing our dignity. Our rich culture and natural ingenuity give us unlimited potential to explore outside of catering to others. Technology, manufacturing, and finance have all been democratised, and we have the talent. So why not use it?

We can do more, we can be more. But only if we dare break the chains.