In late November Jamaica will host the UNWTO, Government of Jamaica and World Bank Group Conference on Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism. To call this a big deal would be an understatement.
- “This will be the first time that the UNWTO and its affiliates have staged a working conference in the Americas…It will strengthen Jamaica’s position as a world leader in tourism.” —Paul Pennicook, Jamaica Tourist Board Director
- “Nothing like this has ever happened before.” —Hugh Riley, secretary general for the Caribbean Tourism Organization
- “The hotel and tourism industry is the largest employer in the region, [so] sustainability to us is a matter of survival…Without our precious environment, we have nothing to sell.” —Matt Cooper, CMO, Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association
Addressing a press conference during Caribbean Week in New York City, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, elaborated on why the UNWTO(United Nations World Tourism Organization) conference will be so important to his country, the Caribbean, and the world. The world? Yes, and that includes travel professionals. “Tourism is the number one industry in the world today,” he explained. “It now employs 10 percent of global labor—293 million workers—and by 2020 it will represent 11 percent of world GNP.”
What, Really, Is Sustainability?
Picking up on a point Pennicook had made—”We are the most tourism-dependent region in the world”—Bartlett noted that tourism employs one of four workers in the Caribbean and accounted for $27 billion last year. There’s a hitch, though: “As much as 80 percent of tourism expenditures leaks out of Caribbean countries.” This “leakage” is something Bartlett wants the conference to address, because sustainability is not just about nature; it’s also about “the sustainability of our people.”
Much of that leakage happens because many hotels are owned by multinationals, but when asked if he’d like to see that change, Bartlett shook his head. “We want the big chains to come because they bring demand,” he said. They create product, too. “I don’t envision that business model changing,” said Bartlett. “The commodification of tourism will continue.” In short, the major brands that travel agents book are in no danger of disappearing. Just the opposite.
However, while large corporations own the production side of tourism, “the consumption side belongs to the people. We should own the experience of travel. People aren’t traveling for brands…but for experiences”—culture, cuisine, shopping, encounters with locals, etc.—and Bartlett wants that to create more prosperity for Jamaicans. “88 percent of visitors travel for food, but whose food are they going for?” he asked. 67 percent of people go shopping, but whose products are they buying—Thailand’s?”
Bartlett reviewed some initiatives to help Jamaicans own more of the experience.
- Jamaica will create a new training and accreditation program for its chefs, because so many of today’s travelers are passionate about gastronomy.
- The country will establish an Institute of Craft Development in Ocho Rios and other cities to train artists and expose them to different influences. Bartlett plans to create artisans’ villages in Falmouth and other towns, too, offering artworks and crafts that evoke local traditions.
- He’s also determined to increase safety and security, “the number one issue in tourism today.”
In the end, these and other efforts to “broaden the variety and quality of indigenous products” will not just help Jamaicans keep a bigger slice of the pie; they’ll give travel advisors an even better product to sell.