Alongside President and Secretary Clinton, Jamaica’s Minister for Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett spoke today the ongoing 4th meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) Action Network on Post-Disaster Recovery at the University of the Virgin Islands, St. Thomas, USVI introducing the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre.
Transcript of his keynote speech:
I will begin this keynote address by saying that If we could use one word to best describe the global tourism industry that one word would be “resilient.” The sector has historically faced a wide range of threats but has always shown an uncanny ability to recover and soar to higher heights. Notwithstanding, the global tourism sector now faces an unprecedented degree of uncertainty and volatility that policymakers must respond to in an aggressive, consistent manner. We have to protect our tourism market, particularly our indigenous stakeholders, who have helped to bring the world to our shores. A number of locally-operated and owned service providers have added significant value to the Caribbean economy. One company, in particular, Sandals, has helped to put the Caribbean on the map.
The urgency being ascribed to enhancing the resilience of global tourism destinations is based on the intensification of traditional threats to global tourism such as natural disasters linked to climate change and global warming and the emergence of new dynamic threats such as pandemics, terrorism and cybercrimes linked to the changing nature of global travel, human interaction, commercial exchange and global politics .
As a minister of tourism from one of the most disaster-prone regions of the world, I dare say that, I have a firsthand perspective of the importance of building resilience in the tourism sector. Not only is the Caribbean the most disaster-prone region of the world on account of the fact that most islands are situated within the Atlantic hurricane belt where storm cells are produced and the region sits along three active seismic fault lines, it is also the most tourism-dependent region in the world.
The most recent economic data indicate that the livelihood of one in every four Caribbean residents is linked to tourism while travel and tourism contribute to 15.2 % of the region’s GDP in general and over 25% of the GDP of more than half of the countries. In the case of the British Virgin Islands, tourism contributes to 98.5% of GDP. These figures clearly demonstrate the enormous economic contribution of the sector to the Caribbean and its people. They also underscore the importance of developing strategies for mitigating potential hazards that can destabilize tourism services in the region and cause long term setback to growth and development.
Most notably, a recent report indicated that the Caribbean region is likely to lose 22 percent of GDP by 2100 if the current pace of climate change is not reversed with some individual countries expecting to suffer GDP losses between 75 and 100 percent. The report described the main long -term impact of climate change on the region’s economy as loss of tourism revenues. As most of us are aware the region has faced intense natural hazards in recent times. The hurricane season resulted in an estimated loss in 2017 of 826,100 visitors to the Caribbean, compared to pre-hurricane forecasts. These visitors would have generated US$741 million and supported 11,005 jobs. Research suggests that recovery to previous levels could take up to four years in which case the region will miss out on over US$3 billion over this timeframe.
Beyond the obviously growing threat of climate change, tourism stakeholders cannot remain oblivious to the other concerns that are rapidly emerging within the broader context of globalization. Take for example, the threat of terrorism. The conventional wisdom was that most non-western countries were generally insulated from the threat of terrorism. However recent terror attacks in tourist regions such as Bali in Indonesia and Bohol in the Philippines have sought to discredit this assumption.
Then there is also the challenge of preventing and containing epidemics and pandemics in tourist regions. The danger of epidemics and pandemics has been an ever-present reality due to the nature of international travel and tourism which is based on close contact and interaction between millions of people from all across the world on a daily basis. This danger has however heightened in recent years.
The world today is hyperconnected with the current volume, speed, and reach of travel being unprecedented. Almost 4 billion trips were taken by air just last year alone. A 2008 Worldbank report indicated that a pandemic that lasts for a year could trigger an economic collapse resulting from efforts to avoid infection such as reducing air travel, avoiding travel to infected destinations, and reducing consumption of services such as restaurant dining, tourism, mass transport, and nonessential retail shopping.
Finally, the current trend of digitalization means that we now have to be mindful of not only tangible threats but also the growing invisible threats associated with electronic activities. Most tourism-related commerce now takes place electronically from destination research to bookings to reservations to room service to payment for vacation shopping. Destination security is no longer simply a matter of protecting international tourists and local lives from physical danger but now also means protecting people against cyber threats such as identity theft, hacking of personal accounts and fraudulent transactions.
We have seen where sophisticated cyber terrorists have even caused system-wide disruptions to essential services in some major countries in recent times. It is, however, an unfortunate fact that most tourist destinations currently do not have any backup plan to deal with cyber-attacks.
As we seek to build our resilience against the four main threats to global tourism identified in my presentation as well as others not named, an important element of an effective resilience framework is being able to anticipate catastrophic events. This shifts the focus from responding to disruptions to preventing them in the first place. Building resilience will require a systematic approach based on strengthening collaborations at the national, regional and international levels among tourism policymakers, lawmakers, tourism enterprises, NGOs, tourism workers, education and training institutions and general populations to reinforce institutional capacity to anticipate, coordinate, monitor and evaluate actions and programs to lower risk factors.
The necessary resources need to be allocated for research, training, innovation, surveillance, information-sharing, simulation and other capacity-building initiatives. Importantly, tourism development can no longer be at the expense of the environment as it is ultimately the environment that will sustain a healthy tourism product, particularly for island destinations. Efforts to tackle climate change must be firmly embedded in tourism policies from the designing of building codes to the issuing of building permits to the legislation of environmental best practices for service providers to building a general consensus with all stakeholders about the importance of adopting green technology in the sector.
In responding to the call to build tourism resilience in the Caribbean, I am very proud that the region’s first resilience centre named ‘The Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre’ was recently established at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus Jamaica. The facility, which is the first of its kind, will assist with preparedness, management, and recovery from disruptions and/or crises that impact tourism and threaten sector-dependent economies and livelihoods.
The Centre is focused on four key deliverables at the moment. One is the establishment of an academic journal on resilience and global disruptions. The editorial board has been established and is headed by Professor Lee Miles of Bournemouth University with the assistance of George Washington University. The other deliverables include drafting of a blueprint for resilience; creation of a resilience barometer; and establishment of an Academic Chair for resilience and innovation. This is in keeping with the Centre’s mandate to create, produce and generate toolkits, guidelines and policies to guide the recovery process following a disaster.
The Centre will be staffed by internationally recognized experts and professions in the fields of climate management, project management, tourism management, tourism risk management, tourism crisis management, communication management, tourism marketing and branding as well as monitoring and evaluation.
Outside of the establishment of the Resilience Centre which provides a sound institutional framework for building tourism resilience I have also recognized that resilience must be also linked to enhancing destination competitiveness. Enhancing destination competitiveness requires that tourism policymakers identify and target alternative tourist markets.
Smaller tourist destinations, in particular, can no longer rely solely on a few source markets mainly in North America and Europe for tourism revenues. That is no longer a viable strategy for sustaining a viable tourism product. This is because new competitive destinations are emerging that are reducing some destinations’ share of traditional tourists and also because an overdependence on traditional source markets exposes destinations to a high degree of vulnerability to external adverse developments. In order to remain competitive and withstand the impact of adverse developments in traditional source markets, destinations must aggressively target new segments or niche markets to appeal to travelers from non-traditional regions.
It was this innovative thinking that led us to establish our Five Networks in Jamaica- gastronomy, entertainment and sports, health and wellness, shopping and knowledge- as an initiative to exploit our built-in strengths to expand the international attractiveness of our tourism sector while stimulating more local economic opportunities.
In closing, this conference will facilitate the exchange of meaningful ideas and thinking about resilience and crisis management. These ideas will help all the tourism policymakers and stakeholders in attendance to build on existing strategies as well as to consider new direction/vision. Ultimately a consensus must be reached about a universal resilience framework /blueprint that can be adopted by all tourist destinations globally.