Jamaica Tourism Minister Hon. Edmund Bartlett closed the Sectoral Debate for Fiscal Year 2022-2023 with a speech on sowing seeds for peace, opportunity, and prosperity.
Here is what he had to say about tourism.
Madam Speaker, I start now with the tourism sector. The Ministry of Tourism and its public bodies remain committed to sustaining growth in the industry in order to ensure that tourism remains the driving force behind Jamaica’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery. To this end, Madam Speaker, we have taken bold and decisive steps to rebuild this growth sector, many of which were outlined, as I addressed this honorable House when I opened the Sectoral Debate in April.
The cornerstone of a resilient destination is sound policy, planning and legislative frameworks as well as collective collaboration among stakeholders. The work of the Ministry of Tourism and its public bodies reflects these.
Madam Speaker, since my delivery at April’s opening of the 2022/2023 Sectoral Debate, there have been significant developments in tourism that augur well for the industry’s brisk post-pandemic recovery. Developments, Madam Speaker, which are not only facilitating the diversification; they are also laying the groundwork of a sustainable, resilient infrastructure which benefits all players along the tourism value chain.
Madam Speaker, arrival figures from the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) signal that the sector is proving its resilience and a return to pre-pandemic performance is on the horizon. At the end of May, we surpassed the one million-visitor mark for this year, and we are well on our way to achieving our 2022 projections of total visitor arrivals of 3.2 million and total revenue of US$3.3 billion. However, Madam Speaker, if we intend to maintain this positive momentum, if we intend to realize our 2024 projections of 4.5 million visitor arrivals and US$4.7 billion in gross foreign exchange revenues, then we must lay the groundwork for a strong comeback.
Madam Speaker, we are already seeing excellent signs of recovery as the tourism industry continues to drive Jamaica’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery.
Madam Speaker, the Planning Institute of Jamaica’s (PIOJ) latest economic performance update for January to March 2022 indicates that the “Real Value Added for Hotels & Restaurants increased by an estimated 105.7 percent.”
The PIOJ also outlined that “the industry continues to benefit from increased travel, in light of the relaxation of previously implemented COVID-19 containment measures.”
Preliminary data revealed that stopover arrivals increased by 230.1 percent to 475,805 visitors, and cruise passenger arrivals totaled 99,798 when compared to the same period last year.
Madam Speaker, based on PIOJ data for January to February 2022, total visitor expenditure increased to US$485.6 million when compared to US$169.2 million in the corresponding period in 2021.
Madam Speaker, laying the groundwork needed to ensure that this kind of robust recovery continues is the idea behind the recent highly successful phase of our global markets blitz where I led a high-level tourism team to the United Kingdom, the United States and then Dubai to explore investment and airlift opportunities and bolster tourism travel to Jamaica.
Our first stop, London, saw us locked in six days of back-to-back engagements with key stakeholders like Virgin Atlantic as well as interviews with major media outlets and travel writers. Madam Speaker, the UK is our third largest source market for stopover visitors and this trip was critical to initiating discussions aimed at boosting arrivals and sector earnings.
During the UK leg of the blitz, we joined my colleague Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport, Hon. Olivia “Babsy” Grange, at two launch events for Jamaica 60 in London and Birmingham. Madam Speaker, the series of activities to mark the island’s 60th anniversary of independence will consist of church services, music and dance symposiums, exhibitions, garden parties and music festivals, all of which will be held under the theme ‘Reigniting a Nation for Greatness’.
The J60 launch events provided an excellent opportunity to interact with our sizeable UK Diaspora, which consists of more than “family and friends” who wish to retain their sense of identity and connection to home. The Diaspora is a viable market segment with which we can strengthen partnerships to drive tourism, trade and investment opportunities. Madam Speaker, they are a viable market segment that, leveraged properly, could drive tourism recovery.
The US leg of the blitz was equally fruitful with the tourism team meeting with key partners to stimulate travel from the US North-eastern Seaboard, inclusive of New Jersey and Connecticut, extending to Boston. Madam Speaker, we are working aggressively towards full recovery; however, we cannot do it without the support of our long-standing airline partners like JetBlue and Flight Centre Travel Group Limited (FLT), one of the world’s largest travel groups.
Coming out of a high-level meeting with the JetBlue leadership team at their New York City headquarters, the airline announced that by July this year, they will be increasing the number of seats between the US and Montego Bay by 40 percent compared to July 2019. A significant boost for Jamaica!
This is great news as we actively work on recovery in the US, which is our biggest source market. Based on these booking numbers Jamaica hopes to experience the best summer ever since the pandemic.
Madam Speaker, the US leg of the markets blitz proved to be a very productive week that allowed for the strengthening of alliances with tourism stakeholders and international partners.
From there, we headed to the new market of the Middle East where Jamaica was on full display at the country’s debut participation in the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) tradeshow in Dubai, as we continued our efforts to open the Middle East and African travel gateways.
Madam Speaker, another major outcome of the Dubai trip was the ground-breaking agreement, which now sees Emirates Airlines, the largest airline in the Gulf Coast Countries (GCC), selling seats to Jamaica. This arrangement, a historic first for Jamaica and the Caribbean, opens gateways from the Middle East, Asia and Africa to our island and the rest of the region.
It is the first time that Destination Jamaica has been entered into the ticketing system of a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) airline and gives the JTB significant leverage to negotiate direct flights to the destination.
Both Norman Manley and Sangster International Airports are now listed in the airline system, with ticket pricing available accordingly. Flights are offered with options including JFK, New York, Newark, Boston and Orlando. One option goes through Malpensa, Italy, allowing access to the European market as well.
Madam Speaker, even as we seek to woo more international investors, we remain focused on creating an enabling environment to foster the growth and development of tourism stakeholders, including Small and Medium Tourism Enterprises (SMTEs), in order to create a more inclusive sector.
I would like to remind members of $1 billion earmarked by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) to provide financing to SMTEs within the tourism sector and Linkages Network as well as Manufacturers and Suppliers to the industry.
This facility is being managed through the EXIM Bank which has, to date, approved and disbursed approximately one hundred and sixty-two (162) loans valued at some JA$1.56 billion to seventy-two (72) beneficiaries.
Madam Speaker, this specialized lending program has been particularly important over the last twenty-four months of the COVID-19 pandemic as the Ministry and its tourism partners, along with EXIM Bank, worked proactively and diligently to provide relief to players in the tourism value chain. This took the form of extended payment moratoria and debt restructuring. In some cases, where practicable EXIM was able to support capital improvements during the downturn period. EXIM is currently processing an additional $100 million in loan applications as the tourism sector rebounds.
We believe through this loan program a significant contribution has been made to the economic growth of Jamaica through foreign exchange earnings from businesses engaged in the tourism value chain and ensuring that approximately 1,300 jobs are sustained.
Madam Speaker, as we work to build a thriving and inclusive ecosystem for our SMTEs, I am pleased to announce that TEF is making progress with the Tourism Incubator. A task force has been set up with a variety of key stakeholders to guide the establishment of the incubator with the goal of having the first call for ideas before the end of the financial year.
Madam Speaker, we are proud to be partnering with the Development Bank of Jamaica on this important initiative. In addition, TEF has begun discussions with potential ICT partners as technology will play a key role in the operations of the incubator and enhancing the sector overall.
This partnership is expected to extend beyond the tourism incubator and will entail initiatives geared towards utilizing technology in local hotels and attractions, as well as the tourism value chain to create exciting and efficient experiences for all players in the sector. You will hear more on the incubator’s technology partners in the coming weeks.
As we continue to place priority on increasing the capacity of local SMTEs, TEF recently held a Business Development Information Session for these important enterprises that drive 80 percent of the value of tourism experiences worldwide.
The session brought together key business development experts in collaboration with the TEF, and highlighted the products and services available to SMTEs to facilitate their expansion, such as competitive business loans; GOJ financing facilities; vouchers to assist SMTEs with technical needs; effective business marketing; business development grants; product testing services and product standardization services (to ensure products meet market requirements).
The business development information session for SMTEs was an initiative of TEF’s Tourism Linkages Network, in collaboration with key partners, including the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ); EXIM Bank; Jamaica Manufacturers & Exporters Association (JMEA); Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC); Jamaica National Bank Small Business Loans; and the Companies Office of Jamaica.
Madam Speaker, we continue to work assiduously to strengthen the linkages between tourism and other sectors so that our manufacturers, farmers, producers of goods and services, and hoteliers can work together to capitalize on the many opportunities that exist in the hospitality sector.
To this end, the Government of Jamaica is moving to develop Jamaica as a logistics supply hub for the local tourism sector and for other tourism dependent nations in the region.
Madam Speaker, this will give Jamaican entities the necessary muscles needed to grow locally, regionally and internationally.
In May, Mr. Wilfred Baghaloo, PwC Jamaica’s Deals Partner for the Southern Caribbean, was appointed the new chairman of the new logistic centre. The idea of the logistic supply hub for Jamaica and the other Caribbean islands came out of the Tourism Recovery Task Force that Mr. Baghaloo chaired between March 2020 and September 2020. The terms of reference (TOR) for the project are currently being developed by the Ministry of Tourism. Madam Speaker, as we shift towards a more sustainable tourism model and a focus on unique market segments, it will call for greater protection of our natural capital which is essential to a thriving tourism economy. Since inception, the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has committed substantial resources to the restoration and preservation of Jamaica’s natural and built heritage and, in doing so, has created a richer and more diverse product for locals and visitors to enjoy.
At the start of June, the Ministry of Tourism and TEF, in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture & Fisheries, launched the Restoration of Holland Bamboo Scenic Avenue Project, which we know as Bamboo Avenue. This premier St. Elizabeth landmark, located on the main South Coast Highway, between Middle Quarters and Lacovia, is one of our great eco-attractions. Unfortunately, natural and man-made events have taken a toll on the bamboo coverage and caused it to thin considerably. TEF has committed $8.5 million to the replanting and restoration of Holland Bamboo, which is just one of several signature projects it has undertaken across the island to restore our heritage sites.
Madam Speaker, among the many important initiatives I outlined in my presentation, was the development of a Sustainability Framework and Strategy to help boost tourism’s resilience and increase its sustainability during times of crisis. Work on this programme is in high gear as we seek to foster the sustainable development of the sector and increase foreign exchange earnings. To this end, just last week, Madam Speaker, we handed over disaster risk management tools to representatives from the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association and the Association of Jamaica Attractions Limited.
These comprised three key publications prepared by the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Enhancement Fund, namely:
1. The Disaster Risk Management Framework for the Tourism Sector
2. Disaster Risk Management Plan Template and Guidelines for the Tourism Sector
3. Business Continuity Plan Guidebook for the Tourism Sector
Madam Speaker, these documents outline our strategy for mainstreaming disaster risk management considerations into the tourism sector’s policies, strategies and plans. In addition, the publications provide clear guidance to tourism entities on the basic infrastructure and operating procedures required to mitigate, prepare for, respond to and recover from hazardous events or emergency situations. Madam Speaker, through information sharing and training the Ministry of Tourism and its public bodies are seeking to build tourism resilience through collaboration with our tourism partners.
These are just some of the many initiatives being pursued by our Ministry and its public bodies that will provide the framework for the development of a more lucrative and resilient tourism industry.
Madam Speaker, by capitalizing on the numerous opportunities in tourism we will be able to build back a truly inclusive, resilient and sustainable sector while bolstering the national economy in a significant way, as we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, we will continue to push forward to build a prosperous future and a thriving nation which benefits every Jamaican.