He is the official behind the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center (GTRCMC) and also the man behind the UN officially launching the annual Global Tourism Resilience Day on February 17.
As a tourism minister of an island nation, the minister’s country went through many challenges in building its tourism industry. Today, Jamaica Tourism is booming and the number one currency import under the guidance of this driven man.
Today, he was interviewed at UN headquarters in New York City at the High-Level Political Forum’s (HLPF’s) official side event on Economic, Social, and Environmental Sustainability in Tourism, where he explained what tourism resilience is truly all about. The question posed to him was:
In this context of championing tourism resilience, can you share with us the challenges and opportunities that you are facing as a tourism minister to put tourism front and center in efforts for achieving the SGDs.
This was his response:
When I think of the relationship between tourism and the SGDs, these key issues of sustainability come to mind- social inclusiveness, gender equality, inclusive economic growth; community development, decent work; poverty reduction; resource efficiency, environmental protection and cultural and heritage retention.
The tourism sector has demonstrated its enormous potential to deliver results in relation to several of these goals. In the context of Jamaica, tourism remains one of the most labor-intensive sectors of the national economy and generates jobs not only in the sector, but through its value chain in many other sectors such as cultural industries, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, transportation, entertainment, handicrafts, health, financial services or information and communication technologies. Indeed, Tourism is the lifeblood of many marginalized rural communities in Jamaica where it is often the only viable economic sector generating mass employment for residents and income opportunities for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. Ultimately, by keeping thousands of Jamaicans employed and earning wages that stimulate consumption in the broader national economy, tourism is a significant catalyst of poverty reduction.
The tourism sector also promotes social inclusiveness and inclusive economic growth by generating a wide range of employment opportunities for Jamaicans across all age ranges, skill levels, educational levels, social and economic classes and geographical locations. These persons are employed in diverse areas such as concierge, reservations, food and beverage, operations management, information and technology, human resource management, accounting and cost control, grounds & maintenance, entertainment, transportation, housekeeping, security etc. Also, since more than 60 % of tourism workers are women, the sector also contributes positively to the economic empowerment of thousands of women, especially rural women, who would have otherwise had limited avenues for income generation.
An Island Nation Exemplifies Tourism
Jamaica’s tourism product is also considerably culture and heritage-based. Its mass appeal lies in its expansive range of cultural/heritage assets that have been converted into tourism products and offerings such as national landmarks, heritage sites, museums, festivals, music, art and craft, local cuisine. This ultimately means that the competitiveness and sustainability of the country’s tourism product is crucially linked to the preservation and protection of indigenous cultures and heritage.
Notwithstanding these positive attributes of the country’s tourism product, I will be the first to admit that there are long-standing challenges that present implications for the transition of the tourism sector to sustainability. The tourism product remains largely undiversified. Resort development in still heavily concentrated in coastal areas; revolving around the “sand, sun and sea” concept. Consequently, the tourism sector continues to place a heavy burden on dwindling land-based and marine ecosystems. The pace of transition to the adoption of renewable and green energies is admittedly slow and the tourism experience is still largely built around the promotion of laissez faire practices that emphasize excessively indulgent and unlimited behaviors among tourists, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for the promotion of goals linked to environmental sustainability such as sustainable consumption and resource conservation. Generally, tourism development in SIDs such as Jamaica typically highlight the difficulty of balancing economic development with environmental sustainability since the tourism product in these countries is considerably based on the exploitation of depleting natural resources.
The preeminence of the all-inclusive concept limits opportunities for the immersion of visitors into local life and for the more extensive participation of local communities in the tourism value chain. Consequently, there have been persistent complaints from local interests about insufficient linkages and the benefits of tourism development not trickling down to local populations. This has been further compounded by the pervasiveness of “economic leakage” which results in significant levels of foreign exchange earnings generated by tourism leaving the country rather than being retained for local benefit. The main type of linkage experienced by Jamaica is import leakage. This commonly occurs when tourists demand equipment, food, beverages, supplies and other products that the host country cannot supply and thus have to be imported, especially in less-developed countries. The Caribbean is known for its high “economic leakages” averaging around 70%, which means that for every dollar earned from the foreign tourists and excursionists, 70 cents is lost to the importation of goods and services In Jamaica, 30% of Travel & Tourism spending leaks out of the economy through imports. Ultimately, leakage undermines the full potential of tourism to contribute to community development and inclusive economic growth.
Many micro, small and medium-sized tourism enterprises in Jamaica are unable to maximize their full economic potential. While our vast network of MSMTES constitute the backbone of the sector, contributing significantly to the authenticity and quality of the tourism experience, enhancing destination competitiveness and contributing to enhanced brand image, their development has been historically stymied by challenges such as high level of informality, lack of commercial orientation, lack of market information and market access, insufficient access to financial capital, limited customer training and low ICT diffusion.
While the labor-intensive tourism sector remains a catalyst of job creation, its contribution to the phenomena of decent work and the generation of livable incomes still continues to be questioned. The fact that that the majority of the tourism-related jobs are deemed to require low to medium-level technical means that the sector has been forced to contend with negative perceptions of low wages and the lack of career opportunities beyond entry-level jobs. This has helped to create serious doubt and skepticism about the true economic value of tourism.
The contribution of tourism to gender equality has also been undermined by the fact that men are more likely to be employed or promoted to management-level positions in the tourism industry while women are also disproportionately concentrated in the lowest paid and lowest status jobs.
The challenges identified above are not insurmountable. For one, economic growth and environmental sustainability do not have to be at conflict with each other. Indeed, countries like Jamaica have significant potential to accelerate the development of niche tourism markets that balance economic growth with environmental sustainability such as eco-tourism, health and wellness tourism and culture and heritage tourism.
Many trends are impacting the skills needed to perform competently in tourism-related jobs such as digitalization and virtualization, the need for sustainable behaviors and practices, the growth of non-traditional segments, the changing demographics of international travelers (more youthful, more specific), changing lifestyles and consumer demands and the need for data-driven policies .The competitiveness of the tourism will thus depend on the extent to which destinations emphasize workforce development strategies that are introduced in partnership with the both public and private institutions to provide formal qualifications and skills development in the emerging areas that will shape the future of tourism. This kind of focus will also allow the industry to maintain a sufficient and highly-qualified workforce, raise income levels as well as the prestige of jobs in the industry
Reducing leakage and localizing more of the economic benefits of tourism development requires greater coordinated efforts to strengthen linkages between tourism and other sectors of the economy particularly the agricultural and manufacturing sector to promote import substitution, to increase the benefits derived by local residents and communities and to promote broader participation by nationals.
Greater government support is also crucial in three areas to build the resilience of MSMTEs – training, development and financing. Training and product development are especially crucial for the delivery of high-quality services by MSMTEs that will lead to improved visitor satisfaction and retention and enhanced competitiveness and revenue performance.
The Literal Environment of Tourism
Finally, understanding the volatile and difficult environment within which they operate, tourism enterprises must urgently come to term with the fact that reducing the number of raw materials, energy, production, operating and disposal costs will increase a companies’ bottom line. Indeed, all waste represents a loss in profit and resources. This requires that the sector embraces sustainable energy that is collected from renewable sources, meaning those which are naturally replenished, such as solar from sunlight, wind, water from rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat: natural resources to which many tourism establishments have access. Examples of renewable energy include solar panels, solar water heaters, wind turbines, bio-digestors, fully solar powered refrigerators/freezers, solar lights, and hydro systems. Other notable innovations in the area of renewable energy include: solar air conditioning (SAC), seawater air conditioning (SWAC) and solar photovoltaic (PV) systems. Among the benefits of the shift to renewable energy are cost savings, better competitiveness due to reduced cost, reduction of carbon footprint, environmentally friendly image for businesses allowing for new markets, an improvement on the quality of services offered to guests, and preparation for future problems such as power outages and water shortages. Renewable energy is a cheaper and cleaner alternative in remote areas.
Beyond the use of renewable energy sources, the adoption of energy conservation and eco-friendly practices will be required at every stage of the building and management process. This includes selecting an appropriate building site, using sustainable building materials, implementing green energy sources and applying a natural design style. In terms of operational efficiency and energy -cost reductions, more tourism businesses must embrace Energy saving technologies such as sensors, LED, smart climate control, embrace recycling, water harvesting, reduce plastic use and increase reusable goods such as reusable napkins, glasses, straws, water bottles, cups, linen, etc.