Saturday 4 July, 2020

'Jamaica's tourism product ripe for reinvention'

By Dr André Gordon

Global tourism is facing an unprecedented challenge from the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

According to the World Economic Forum close to 90 per cent of the world’s population now lives in countries with travel restrictions;  an  estimated 25 million aviation jobs and 100 million travel and tourism jobs are at risk, hence the reason why most countries are now in the re-opening mode.

Jamaica is no different and has to look at pragmatic ways of getting its economy going without compromising the significant gains made in the fight against SARS-CoV-2 and its disease, COVID-19.

This is more urgent because of the position in which we find ourselves, having lost the excellent momentum we had been building for several years in growth in tourism and its contribution to jobs and the economy.

Despite the devastating impact that COVID-19 has had on our tourism, economy and is having on our lives, the hiatus brought about by the pandemic is an opportunity to restructure the sector to ensure that more of the dollars earned from tourism stay in the country and benefit more people.

Re-opening also requires that we think very carefully about how this is done and the consequences of getting it wrong, as many in the sector are doing. We must therefore “make haste slowly” and do so with deliberate, sure-footed, calculated precision.

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Some of the considerations regarding COVID-19 that must be addressed as we look to re-open include how will we deal with the elephant in the room: that the majority of infections are now being driven by asymptomatic carriers, the fact that rapid spread is often mediated by “superspreaders” and that not knowing the status of incoming persons does not negate but indeed enhances the risk?

What is the likely impact of a rash of COVID-19 cases among visitors on the properties involved and the perceived “safety” of Jamaica as a destination? What is the risk to local staff and their communities?

Once we have these and a few other matters sorted out, we are good to go! We can therefore now focus on the opportunities that arise from the current situation.

The opportunities for retrofitting our tourism product brought about by the pandemic are too important to be missed.

A restructured tourism product could provide an opportunity for significant expansion of our earnings from products and services consumed locally.

From expanding the current efforts at creating impactful linkages to domestic agriculture, to an insistence on the inclusion of local goods and services as a central part of our tourism product offering, this is the lowest hanging of low hanging fruits offered by the industry.

An easy-to-implement, short time-horizon but profoundly significant programme is one based on the Peruvian model of tourism that I experienced in visiting that country where all craft and giftware items easily available to visitors were authentically Peruvian-made.

A similar programme would see the Bureau of Standards and Consumer Affairs Commission working closely with the Ministry of Tourism and progressive players within the industry to enforce Jamaica’s labelling regulations and statutes against deception of visitors and insisting that only authentic Jamaica-made craft and giftware are allowed to be sold, once they are purporting to be Jamaican.

iStock  image

Those imported items in Jamaican colours, being sold to unsuspecting tourists should be dis-allowed and action taken against retail outlets in breach of regulations who “pass-off” Chinese, Taiwanese, Indian and other items as “Jamaican”.

Of course, this would best be implemented along with a companion programme that would see really skilled artisans and professionals working along with local artisans and fine artists to improve the quality of product offerings, as was done post-Hurricane Ivan under the Jamaica Business Recovery Programme (JBRP).

This could be augmented by bold and visionary restructuring of how our tourism product works as others have done, including an insistence that Jamaicans are primarily the ones employed in managerial and other positions and providing the entertainment for the sector.

Finally, we must stop talking about sports tourism and make it a reality, leveraging Jamaica’s unique achievements in the international sporting arena. Sports tourism is the fastest growing sector in the global travel industry, currently worth upwards of US$7 billion a year. With our athletes, climate, proximity to major sports markets, Jamaica is uniquely placed and qualified to deliver a remarkable sport tourism and active sport tourism experience to a new, massive and more affluent cohort of visitors who spend more of their time and money in communities in the places where they visit.

The world-famous Dunn's River Falls in St Ann, Jamaica

I am certain that the very effective team in the Ministries of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sports, and Tourism working with motivated private sector partners can marshal the forces in the sport, entertainment and cultural sector to deliver exceptional value to the tourism product over time, particularly when it re-starts for the winter season.

Space will not permit more details or sharing of other specifics and opportunities at this time. Suffice it to say that all of these can be developed by building on what already exists and applying creative, synergistic targeted solutions and policies that mutually reinforce each other and make investment in these areas so attractive that entrepreneurs are naturally drawn to them.

If success is to be achieved, these programmes will have to be properly structured, focused and implemented in a manner that is not typical in the normal Jamaican context. The transformation we seek would demand that these programmes are underpinned by some guiding principles, viz.1) non-partisanship, inclusiveness and a search for competence and excellence in implementation; 2) a relentless focus on foreign exchange earnings or savings programmes and business ventures which will be supported by appropriate incentives; 3) implementation of an aggressive “Authentic (Brand) Jamaica Programme” for our hospitality sector which should be specifically tied to any incentives given; 4) any incentives to the hospitality sector should be strictly tied to specific, measurable benefits to the country. These could include expanding export earnings through the creation of new attractions, new rooms, etc., a target for specific, per head purchase of local goods and services and the requirement for/provision of preferential terms if a new venture will involve local partners, among others.

There is no doubt in my mind that with the implementation of a properly designed programme with effective prevention and mitigation measures that take into account the realities and dangers of COVID-19 while also restructuring the nature of the industry as suggested herein, Jamaica can not only recover from the pandemic, but also thrive.

André Gordon, Ph.D., CFS

Dr. André Gordon is the Chief Executive Officer of TSL, a firm that provides tailored and COVID-19 specific technical support and training to the tourism sector and productive. Contact andre.gordon@tsltech.com or biz.info@tsltech.com.

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