Fireside Chat with Jamaica Tourism Minister

Bartlett 1 e1647375496628 | eTurboNews | eTN
Jamaica Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett - Image courtesy of Jamaica Tourism Board

At the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association (JHTA) meeting, Jamaica Tourism Minister sat down for an informative Fireside Chat.

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Question 1: Even more so than before sustainability is front and center of all talk in the travel industry. How encouraged are you by the actions taken by the big players – government and private sector in the Travel Industry? Are you convinced it’s more than rhetoric and green washing?

Hon. Minister Bartlett: Sustainability must be wired into the core of the global tourism and travel ecosystem. This requires increased commitment and investments among players and stakeholders in the travel and tourism industry to respond to threats such as  resource scarcity, climate change and global warming, natural disasters, biodiversity loss, marine and coastal degradation, culture and heritage erosion and high energy cost.

Unfortunately, the tourism and travel industry, with its emphasis on hospitality, customer satisfaction and providing memorable experiences, has traditionally exemplified excessive patterns of resource use and  consumption that, in many respects, have undermined sustainability. Admittedly, among other resources, the tourism industry generally uses substantial amounts of energy for providing comfort and services to its guests, typically with a low level of energy-efficiency.

Energy supply, vital for the tourism industry, is still dominated by oil products which increases a country’s vulnerability to the environmental impact of fossil-fuel use, as well as to oil price volatility, which makes it difficult for the industry to remain competitive. Currently, the global tourism industry is held responsible for five to eight percent of all global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including flights, maritime and land transport, hotel construction and operation, and air conditioning and heating.

To a great extent, among many destinations, the economic benefits of tourism remain narrowly concentrated among big businesses, for example large hotels, manufacturers and suppliers. There is therefore a clear need for more strategies and initiatives that encourage deepened linkages and participation of local economies in the value chain.

Additionally, marine and coastal ecosystems remain significantly threatened by tourism development. The areas that attract tourists have been coming under increasing pressure from the damage and pollution caused by tourist facilities and the supporting infrastructure. At the same time, the impacts of climate change, overfishing and other unsustainable practices, and even some marine tourism activities damage marine ecosystems, such as coral reefs that are vital to maintaining ecological diversity and regulating climate.

Admittedly, there has been some progress with respect to the greater use of renewables, recycling, smart energy technologies, digitalization and automation and the growth of sustainable tourism segments such as ecotourism, health and wellness tourism and culture and heritage tourism.

However, the pace of transitioning to a more sustainable tourism model must be accelerated. The key challenge is now how to make the tourism growth model more compatible with the quality of life of local communities as well as the preservation of rapidly depleting natural ecosystems and resources. This calls for the designing of integrated policies—with the participation of the private sector, government and local communities—to identify priority areas for promoting sustainability, designing and incentivizing strategies for achieving targets and being able to monitor and hold parties accountable for outcomes.

Question 2: Climate change is having a huge impact on the livelihoods of particularly less developed tourism economies and communities – how are you helping them? The marine life, coral reefs and oceans are in many places in desperate straits – how is that being tackled?

Hon. Minister Bartlett: the leading existential threat facing the tourism industry, especially within the context of island destinations is climate change. From the perspective of my own country, the Jamaican tourism industry is very climate sensitive, and, like most Caribbean islands, Jamaica’s tourism product is coastal, centred on “sun, sea and sand.” The island is therefore susceptible to many risks posed by climate change, including sea level rise and extreme events, with resultant impacts such as beach erosion, flooding, saline intrusion into aquifers and general coastal degradation.

In general, climate change and global warming are the most urgent threats to global tourism; impacting all dimensions of an attractive tourism product- sand, sea, sun, food and people. Climate change is associated with both direct and indirect threats to the sector including food insecurity, water shortages, extreme heat, severe hurricanes, beach erosion, biodiversity loss, critical infrastructure collapse, safety concerns and increasing insurance costs.

Climate change constitutes a major threat to coastal and marine tourism, which is the backbone of Small Island states, accounting for a quarter of the total economy, and a fifth of all jobs in the Caribbean alone. In particular, climate change impacts are undermining the health of coastal and marine ecosystems, which serve as vital sources of food, income, trade and shipping, minerals, energy, water supply, recreation and tourism for island economies.

Based on the context outlined, the tourism industry needs to urgently prioritize climate change adaptation. There needs to be greater commitment and more concrete actions to realign tourism with the visions of the green and blue economies. This requires an enhanced thrust among tourism stakeholders to reduce the carbon footprint of the sector and to make coastal and ocean-based tourism more sustainable; supporting ecosystem regeneration and biodiversity conservation. To promote a sustainable ocean economy and pushback against the various threats to healthy coastal and marine ecosystems, ‘Ocean Action’ is urgently required as ocean health continues to decline rapidly.

As its main strategy for building sustainable ocean economies, which are economic models that promote effective protection, sustainable resource use and production and equitable prosperity simultaneously, the Ocean Panel, comprising of 16 world leaders, has already set the ambitious target of achieving 100% sustainable management of the ocean areas under national jurisdictions.

Overall, climate change adaptation will depend crucially on more conscious, deliberate and mutually-designed efforts to accelerate the shift to more sustainable and environmentally-friendly patterns of production, energy, consumption and construction that balance the importance of environmental sustainability with the economic benefits of tourism.

Question 3: How are local communities being assisted in having a greater stake and reward from this multi-billion-dollar industry?

Hon. Minister Bartlett: Tourism stakeholders in government and the private sector must deepen collaborations to explore new and innovative strategies to boost and expand the vast economic opportunities that can be generated both directly and indirectly from tourism and tourism-related activities. This will address the lingering concern that tourism development has failed to forge robust economic linkages with local communities and populations. Overall, it is crucial to clearly identify areas where viable opportunities exist for the increased consumption of goods and services in the tourism industry that can be supplied by local communities to plug the phenomenon of leakage.

Tourism stakeholders are encouraged to roll out comprehensive community tourism policies and strategies to foster an invigorated tourism sector in communities that enrich community quality of life through social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits, exemplify sustainable livelihoods, and strengthen national policy values and interests. These goals are to be accomplished through the identification of strategies consistent with a partnership approach, reflecting the call for inclusiveness by ensuring that governments, communities, NGOs and the private sector collaborate effectively to expand the economic benefits of tourism to local communities.

Consistent with this thrust, in Jamaica the Tourism Linkages Network was established in 2013 to increase the consumption of goods and services that can be competitively sourced locally; to  coordinate policies and strategies to strengthen linkages with other sectors of the economy particularly the entertainment, agricultural and manufacturing sectors; to  strengthen the benefits derived from the industry by local residents and communities; promote broader participation by nationals and to facilitate opportunities for better networking, information-sharing and communication across sectors.

In 2016 we also initiated – The National Community Tourism Portal, which has been an excellent marketing tool designed to help local community-based tourism enterprises keep pace with the competition.

It has done this by: building awareness of community tourism in Jamaica; providing comprehensive and engaging information on Jamaica’s community tourism product; providing an easy means for making community tourism bookings; and providing Community Based Tourism Enterprises (CBTEs) with affordable and cost-effective e-marketing services.

The Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) also conducts tourism awareness activities and provides technical assistance on ecotourism, Bed & Breakfast (B&B), agro-tourism, cultural heritage tourism, and art and craft development projects.

Question 4: A sceptic may argue one of the biggest changes that needs to be achieved are the CO2 emitting passenger plane journeys to places like the Caribbean and the food miles in importing food and other essentials from many miles away – is that being addressed?

Hon. Minister Bartlett: Currently, transportation fuels (gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel) are among the primary energy-consuming sectors in the world. There is no doubt that the travel industry contributes significantly to global CO2 emissions levels, relative to the size of the industry. While Caribbean economies rely enormously on the travel and tourism industry, they are also in the unfortunate position of being among global economies that are most disproportionately impacted by climate change and global warming. This underscores the conflict of interest that the region is normally faced with.

It is a delicate balance that has to be manoeuvred strategically. One way of looking at it is accepting that airplanes are manufactured in the industrialized economies, which means that the shift to energy-efficiency  needs to begin taking place at the design phase. Regional and international tourism bodies and authorities must use all fora available to stress the importance of the commitment of the airplane manufacturing industry to energy-efficient design.

We can also think about how we might introduce reasonable sanctions and rewards for airlines based on their commitment to particular targets/goals designed to promote environmental sustainability. In terms of the excessive reliance on food and equipment imported from distant markets, the thrust obviously is for more of these inputs to be sourced directly from the various points of arrival and departures, rather than from a few selected markets. Again, this must be something that is industry-led with consultations with key external stakeholders.

WHAT TO TAKE AWAY FROM THIS ARTICLE:

  • Energy supply, vital for the tourism industry, is still dominated by oil products which increases a country's vulnerability to the environmental impact of fossil-fuel use, as well as to oil price volatility, which makes it difficult for the industry to remain competitive.
  • Admittedly, there has been some progress with respect to the greater use of renewables, recycling, smart energy technologies, digitalization and automation and the growth of sustainable tourism segments such as ecotourism, health and wellness tourism and culture and heritage tourism.
  • The key challenge is now how to make the tourism growth model more compatible with the quality of life of local communities as well as the preservation of rapidly depleting natural ecosystems and resources.

About the author

Linda Hohnholz, eTN editor

Linda Hohnholz has been writing and editing articles since the start of her working career. She has applied this innate passion to such places as Hawaii Pacific University, Chaminade University, the Hawaii Children's Discovery Center, and now TravelNewsGroup.

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