Jamaica tourism minister: Plug leakages, promote linkages

As the region takes on recovery challenges, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett wants to see a repurposed Caribbean tourism architecture that increases benefits for locals.

Speaking over the weekend on 92.9 FM VOB’s “Down to Brasstacks” in Barbados, Minister Bartlett opined that despite strong performances across the sector, with the continuing war in Ukraine, its associated energy crunch, and daunting global supply chain and human capital disruptions, the recovery has the potential to be even more disruptive than the pandemic itself.

“We in the Caribbean have to re-imagine our tourism for the future. The glowing pictures that are anticipated will not be realized in the context of the ‘business as usual’ mode,” he told veteran broadcast journalist David Ellis and tourism officials gathered for the discussion.

“We have to talk about how this Caribbean will recover in a manner that will (ensure) growth, real growth, not just arrivals, not just number of people coming into our space, but how is it going to enable the Caribbean, the economies of the Caribbean to grow and the well-being of our people to be enhanced?” he expressed.

“The hard cold facts are that the recovery is not going to see us being able to grow economically if we aren’t able to respond on the supply side,” Minister Bartlett said, adding that while tourism is the fastest way to transfer wealth from the rich to the poor, “that transfer can only happen if the absorptive capacity is in the recipient destination.”

The Jamaican minister cautioned, “If we cannot retain the dollar in our area to the benefit of our people, then we would have been just a plantation like we were in colonial times.”

The experienced legislator asserted the sociology of tourism reveals a structure that is antithetical to local development and growth: “It is a pyramid that suggests at the top full control of who the visitors are, which country they can go to, what carriers they can use to reach there. And then in the middle are some who deal with when they come, where do they go, which hotels they go to, which attractions they go to. And then at the bottom of it all is the poor workers who get absolutely nothing.”

He described a retention capacity of 10 to 15 cents on the dollar as unsustainable. “What we must do in the region is to build out the capacity at every link in that value chain to make sure that the Caribbean people are at the heart of it and are getting their returns,” he declared, adding that leakages (primarily from the imports of the goods and services that the industry requires) ought to be plugged by boosting tourism linkages with other sectors of the local economy such as agriculture, culture and transportation.

“My job is to help us to look at how do we create an architecture that focuses heavily on supplies. How do we enable the Caribbean as a region to draw more from the many visitors?” he challenged his colleagues. The new architecture, he stressed, must focus on the retention of the tourism dollar within the region.

Minister Bartlett recommended an examination of the value chain and what type of investment is required to enable the Caribbean to benefit more.

Photo: Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism