He covered many areas and works of ministries; here we share what he specifically shared about tourism.
Madam Speaker, esteemed colleagues, I stand before you today to bring the Sectoral Debate for the Fiscal Year 2023-2024 to a close. It is a privilege and an honor to undertake this responsibility. I want to express my heartfelt gratitude, on behalf of the government, to all those who dedicated their time and energy to contribute meaningfully to this debate.
We have examined numerous pressing matters that demand our attention and action in this deliberation. We have discussed the need for comprehensive healthcare reform to ensure the well-being of our citizens.
We have deliberated on strategies to foster sustainable economic growth and create employment opportunities for our people. We have explored ways to strengthen our educational system and equip our youth with the skills they need to thrive in a rapidly evolving world. We have explored security and legal measures aimed at enhancing the security of our people and importantly safeguarding the rights of our people. These are just a few examples of the critical issues brought to the forefront during this debate.
I sincerely thank my esteemed parliamentary colleagues for their valuable contributions throughout this year’s debate. I want to thank Prime Minister the Most Honorable Andrew Holness for his steady handed and sterling leadership and Madam Speaker, heartfelt gratitude to you, for your unwavering commitment to steering the parliamentary affairs of our nation with such exceptional skill and dedication. I also want to express my gratitude to the Deputy Leader of Government Business, the Honorable Olivia Babsy Grange for always keeping her hands on the wheel and to the Clerk and the diligent staff of this Honorable House, who have continued to give invaluable service to the House.
As we conclude this Sectoral Debate it is crucial that we reflect upon and emphasize some of the key issues that were raised.
Although it is impossible to address every point in detail, I want to acknowledge the exceptional quality of the presentations and commend the speakers for their genuine commitment and professionalism. The depth of knowledge and the spirit of constructive dialogue that permeated this debate have greatly enriched our understanding of the challenges and opportunities before us.
Madam Speaker, before diving into some of the many salient issues raised in the Sectoral Debate, I want to quickly give a brief update on some of the major developments in the tourism industry, beyond what I already spoke to in my Sectoral presentation.
Summer Tourism Boom – 2 million visitors so far this year
Madam Speaker, already before even completing six months of this year have already received a combined 2 million stopover and cruise visitors with record earnings of US$2 billion, a whopping 18 percent above the 2019 earnings for the same time period. Madam Speaker, it should be no surprise then that Jamaica is bracing for the best summer tourist season ever. This fact was reconfirmed by engagements I led in New York City, Miami and Atlanta this month.
The engagements included a series of meetings and discussions with leading tourism stakeholders in the airline, cruise and tour operator sub-sectors including Delta Airlines, Royal Caribbean Group and Expedia. Added to that was a raft of live television, radio, digital and print media interviews coupled with high level engagements with the Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), the World Bank and George Washington University.
Madam Speaker, Jamaica is also experiencing a rise in summer 2023 air travel bookings by 33% as compared to summer 2022 according to data provided by one of the world’s leading travel data analytics firms, ForwardKeys.
Madam Speaker, this is only cemented by the fact that 1.4 million airline seats have been secured for the summer travel season, representing a 16% increase over the previous best in 2019. Jamaica’s main source market, the United States of America, has locked in 1.2 million of these seats. Madam Speaker, load factors for these flights for the summer are hovering at near 90 percent!
Madam Speaker, the Ministry of Tourism and its public bodies continue to implement strategic and groundbreaking programs to ensure that we develop a more inclusive, resilient and sustainable tourism sector in the post-COVID-19 era.
I am pleased to provide additional details on a few of these key initiatives, as follows:
• We are pleased to have the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) as a technical partner as my Ministry develops a robust and well-defined Tourism Strategy & Action Plan, which will serve as the roadmap for a successful tourism future. This strategy addresses the important issues of economic growth and inclusion, environmental sustainability, cultural preservation, human capital development, and maintaining balance between the quality of the visitor experience and the quality of life of our citizens.
• This Tourism Strategy is only as good as its partnerships. Therefore, collaboration with key stakeholders and tourism partners is critical to this effort. To this end, we have begun a series of island wide workshops to obtain valuable feedback and insights that will help shape the direction of future tourism initiatives. We have already held successful workshops in Montego Bay and Port Antonio with consultations currently underway in Ocho Rios. Workshops in other resort destinations will take place between now and September.
• Efforts to finalize the Destination Assurance Framework and Strategy (DAFS) continue in earnest. Madam Speaker, the DAFS comprises tourism strategies that will enable us to deliver on the brand promise to our visitors of a safe, secure and seamless visit, which is respectful to the community and environment. It has been approved by Cabinet as a Green Paper for further consultations and finalization as a White Paper.
• We have undertaken stakeholder consultations with the aim of finalizing the Framework and Strategy as a White Paper for tabling in Parliament in the current Financial Year. Madam Speaker, the stakeholder engagements are 95% complete with six town hall meetings already being held in Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Treasure Beach, Mandeville and Kingston. They will continue later this week with consultations in Portland and St. Thomas.
• Madam Speaker, the first cohort in the Tourism Enhancement Fund’s (TEF) Tourism Innovation Incubator initiative is only months away from the end of their program. Thirty-seven participants representing 11 teams with 11 unique business ideas are currently participating in the venture.
• The 10-month program will end with the highly anticipated pitch event where participants will pitch to a group of potential business partners, investors and funding agencies. The goal of this event is to secure sufficient interest from these key stakeholders, which will, hopefully, result in business arrangements. The Pitch Event is slated to take place in September 2023.
• By the end of the program, participants would have validated their business ideas, determined whether to continue as planned or pivot, and, in some cases, developed their businesses to be fully operational. At this stage, Madam Speaker, participants would have access to one or a combination of the following funding arrangements:
1. Equity partnership
2. Acquisition (the business is purchased from the participant(s))
3. Access funding through the Tourism Innovation Facility
• Madam Speaker, since announcing the allocation of $100 million for participants who have successfully completed the Tourism Innovation Challenge, the team at the TEF has been working assiduously to secure the necessary partnerships and approvals to operationalize the arrangement. This will be a loan and grant combination. The loan component will be at a significantly low interest rate.
• The requisite MOU has been drafted and will be submitted to Cabinet for final approval. The facility will become operational by the third quarter of this fiscal year.
Tourism Economic Impact Study
Madam Speaker, having had the experience of managing the tourism industry through the pandemic, the Government will be more strategic about gathering evidence to make decisions about how to optimize the economic, social, environmental and infrastructural benefits of tourism investment.
During the coming year, my Ministry will conduct a Tourism Economic Impact Study, which seeks to identify the economic, fiscal, social and environmental impact of the development of an additional 15,000 to 20,000 rooms to augment Jamaica’s existing room stock.
Madam Speaker, the specific objectives are to:
• Identify and evaluate the potential impact of the proposed developments on Gross Domestic Product, Foreign Exchange Earnings, Investment, and Government Revenue and Expenditure;
• Identify and evaluate the potential impact of the proposed developments on income and employment (both direct and indirect);
• Identify and evaluate the potential impact of the proposed developments on key related sectors such as agriculture, construction, manufacturing and entertainment;
• Identify and evaluate the potential impact of the proposed developments on infrastructure needs, the environment and people (particularly housing, transport and recreation);
• Provide recommendations to mitigate potential negative impacts while capitalizing on positive impacts; and
• Provide a credible, rigorous evidence-base to inform the public awareness of the value of the tourism industry to Jamaica
Madam Speaker, this is the most substantial increase in room stock, over the shortest period of time in Jamaica’s history. It represents a uniquely transformative moment. We must seize the moment to obtain the maximum social and economic benefit.
Madam Speaker, the Tourism Linkages Network, under the Tourism Enhancement Fund, has expanded to include various industries that contribute to the growth of our sector. Agriculture plays a crucial role in supporting tourism. Through our Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX) application, small farmers are directly connected with buyers in the tourism industry, benefiting the local agricultural community.
In the first five months of this year, farmers achieved a remarkable milestone by generating a revenue of approximately $325 million through the ALEX platform. This significant accomplishment showcases the platform’s effectiveness in connecting farmers with potential buyers and creating prosperous opportunities. Furthermore, in the preceding year of 2022, the ALEX portal facilitated the sale of agricultural produce valued at over $330 million. This achievement not only highlights the platform’s success but also underscores the positive impact it has had on the livelihoods of 1,733 farmers and 671 registered buyers.
Madam Speaker, we developed the Agricultural Food Safety Manual and conducted sensitization sessions with over 400 farmers. Through the Tourism Linkages network, water shortages and drought periods were identified as barriers for community farmers supplying the tourism sector. To address this, we donated water tanks to farmers in St. Elizabeth, St. James, St. Ann, and Trelawny. In the first phase, 50 tanks were given to farmers in St. Elizabeth and 20 to farmers in St. James. In the second phase, 200 tanks were donated to farmers in St. Ann and Trelawny. We will continue this initiative in 2023 to support more small farmers, while spreading the benefits from tourism.
Job Readiness Program For Tourism
Madam Speaker, the tourism sector continues to be hampered by labor challenges.
The Ministry’s training arm, the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation (JCTI), in response to this situation, is proposing a strategy for attracting new recruits and helping them prepare for available jobs. Madam Speaker, with support from partners, the JCTI is moving to recruit team members from among students graduating from high school in June and July 2023. The goal is to attract 2,000 to 3,000 candidates.
The Tourism Enhancement Fund, of which the JCTI is a division, has therefore asked the HEART NSTA Trust to develop a Job Readiness Program specifically for new entrants to the tourism sector. Successful candidates will receive an NCTVET Certificate.
Madam Speaker, in addition to these successful initiatives, the Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) program is another critical component of the Government’s Human Capital Development program. In June of last year 99 high school students completed the two-year program and received their certificates from the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute. One of those kids from Anchovy High School in St. James had a perfect score- 100 out of 100! All now have jobs in the sector.
Cohort 3 has 303 students in 14 high schools across the country. 150 of these students, who are 18 years and older, are doing their internships in Sandals, Altamont Court, AC Marriott and Golf View Hotel. The hoteliers were excited to meet these young people and all have been placed in the department of their choosing. We are confident that when these students complete the training, they will join trainee development programs or take up jobs at these properties.
Community Attractions – Trench Town’s Vin Lawrence Park
Madam Speaker, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) is committed to community tourism, which goes beyond the traditional tourist hotspots and ventures into the heart of several neighborhoods. By investing in the development of community-based tourism, TPDCo recognizes the potential for sustainable economic growth, job creation, and the preservation of cultural heritage.
Now Madam Speaker, as we continue to work with communities to expand their participation in tourism, I am delighted to share with you an extraordinary development that promises to transform the cultural landscape of Trench Town and captivate tourists from near and far. The Vin Lawrence Park, once an underutilized space, has been revitalized to become a hub of cultural immersion and discovery. This transformation goes beyond the physical enhancements; it represents a celebration of Trench Town’s history, creativity, and resilience. Visitors will have the opportunity to delve into the heart and soul of this community, experiencing its music, art, cuisine, and captivating stories firsthand. As visitors wander through the park’s pathways, they will be treated to vibrant murals depicting the iconic figures who have emerged from Trench Town, such as Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. These larger-than-life artworks pay homage to the rich musical legacy that was born in this very community.
Madam Speaker, the influx of visitors will attract promises to inject life into the local economy, support small businesses, and foster a sense of pride among community members.
The Future of Tourism
Madam Speaker, I also summarily draw attention to the intersection of technology and tourism. Technological advancements are transforming the travel industry. As policymakers, we must embrace this change to enhance the traveler’s experience. The future of work in tourism will be revolutionized by machine intelligence and the Internet of Things. In collaboration with the World Bank, we will conduct a regional study on “The Future of Tourism in the Caribbean.” This study will guide us in creating a sustainable and integrated Caribbean tourism space.
In closing, the Hon. Minister Bartlett said: Madam Speaker, our vision for Jamaica is progress, prosperity, and inclusivity. We remain committed to ensuring that no one is left behind, that every Jamaican has access to opportunities, and that our nation thrives in an increasingly competitive global landscape. Together, let us embrace the challenges ahead, united in our resolve to build a brighter future for Jamaica.
I extend my gratitude to all members of this noble house, the public servants, and the Jamaican people for their unwavering support and dedication to our shared goals. With our collective efforts, I am confident that we will achieve great success in the year ahead.