LIFTING ALL BOATS IN THE RISING TIDE

Jamaica 2018 | TOURISM & ENTERTAINMENT | FOCUS: LINKING TOURISM

Although significantly contributing to the economy, tourism in Jamaica suffers from an inadequate level of linkage with other sectors. The government, in partnership with private actors, is launching a number of initiatives to ensure that international tourists meet local businesses.

Jamaica is one of the most iconic island destinations and enjoys a significant competitive advantage in tourism. Blessed with strong environmental, human, and cultural assets, the Jamaican tourism industry probably contributes as much to the Jamaican brand as it benefits from it. According to the Planning Institute of Jamaica, total visitors in 2016 increased by 3.9% to 3,827,240 persons, the majority of which (64.4%) are stopovers from the US. The main destinations include the internationally renowned Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Negril.

The tourism industry is one the main drivers of Jamaica's economy, directly contributing approximately USD2 billion and employing 94,850 people, or 8.1% of the employed labor force, in 2016.
From September 24-26, 2017, the Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), a forum showcasing Jamaica's tourist offerings, was the occasion for Prime Minister Andrew Holness to inaugurate three new hotels: the Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort and Spa, Breathless Montego Bay Resort and Spa, and Zoëtry Montego Bay for a total investment of USD150 million. Amendments made to the Hotel Incentives Act in 2015 have since facilitated tourism-related investments, granting tax breaks to hoteliers for refurbishing on top of income tax and import duty relief.
However, hotels in Jamaica are mainly all-inclusive resorts, and although many actors of the sector are trying to improve their local print, there is a still a lack of linkage between them and the local economy. What is more, according to information presented at JAPEX 2017 from Edmund Barlett, Minister of Tourism, Jamaica is “among the destinations of the world that has the highest leakage of US dollars from tourism expenditure.”
In 2013, a council chaired by renowned hotelier Adam Stewart of Sandals Resort was established to provide general guidance regarding tourism linkage initiatives. Five areas of focus were identified: gastronomy, health and wellness, sports and entertainment, shopping, and knowledge.
Culinary tourism is extremely promising. According to a 2012 United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) report, 88.2% of tourists “consider that gastronomy is a strategic element defining the brand and image of their destination.” The Jamaica Tourism board created a “Jamaica House” during the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio De Janeiro. The hospitality hub welcomed fans, athletes, international media, and 180 travel agents with a taste of the Jamaican cuisine and culture.
Another interesting example of investment mixing transport, gastronomy, and tourism is the expansion of the Appleton Rum Tour. The tour is scheduled to reopen in November 2017 as the Appleton Estate Rum Experience (AERE) and includes the renovation of the property and the surrounding landscape, a retail store and a gourmet restaurant preparing local cuisine. The government is also working on reopening the train line from Montego Bay to Appleton as a means to make transportation easier and enhance the experience. The investment plans to grow the number of visitors from 50,000 to approximately 200,000 annually. The Appleton Estate Rum Experience will be part of a Gastronomy Network, created by the Ministry of Tourism to map the best food available on the island and promote the island's culinary offerings.
Still, a study commissioned by the Tourism Linkage Network highlighted that before visiting the island, only one out of three visitors considered Jamaica as a food destination. Another issue related to the disconnect of tourism with other sectors is the lack of incentive for hotels to source their food locally. Large hotels often prefer to buy internationally in bulk quantities rather than to negotiate with small local producers whose limited output cannot necessarily guarantee constant supply.
During JAPEX, the Prime Minister set aggressive targets to welcome 5 million visitors by 2021, adding at least 15,000 new hotel rooms. However, this increase in room numbers will not make its full economic impact without better integration into the local economy or multi-sector connections. Highlighting the gastronomy opportunities during visits will enhance visitors' experiences and improve the linkage with local businesses for broader ripple effects on the economy.