Sectoral-debate-images-7122020

INTRODUCTION

Mr. Speaker, I rise on this my 31st occasion to address this honourable house in this critically important sectoral debate as I speak of the developments and challenges faced by one of our nation’s key industries, tourism. With COVID-19 upending the affairs of every single nation, east and west, I must extend hearty commendation and gratitude for the leadership of Prime Minister, the Most Honourable Andrew Holness, as he effectively steers Jamaica through the choppiest seas in our nation’s modern history. We all pray that God will continue to strengthen him in these unique times whilst we work as a team to deliver success at the end of this crisis.

 Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank:

Mr. Speaker, to my constituents of East Central St. James, I say thank you for your support and patience in my continued leadership of your affairs. The negative economic and social effects of COVID-19 are there for all to see.  However, we take comfort in the range of projects resulting in improved roads, greater access to water, a deepening of community development and engagement activities, especially for our youth, housing developments, urban renewal, positive developments in agricultural projects, better sports development initiatives and stronger avenues for job creation.

Mr. Speaker, I salute my three Councillors, my management team and my committed workers including Ed’s Tulips, who continue to be a source of community support, especially to the poor and indigent of the constituency. As always Mr. Speaker the human capital development programme for East Central remains our flagship activity for the last 21 years and we are proud Mr. Speaker that we have graduates from every university, locally and many overseas, as well as high schools and teachers’ colleges. I would like of course to thank our private sector partners who have helped to make these scholarships sustainable.

Mr. Speaker, I also want to, of course, thank my superb team at the Ministry of Tourism led by our Permanent Secretary, Jennifer Griffith. And our supporting agencies, the Jamaica Tourist Board, Tourism Enhancement Fund, the Tourism Product Development Company, Jamaica Vacations Ltd., the Montego Bay Convention Centre, Devon House Development Company, the Bath and Milk River Mineral Spas, as well as their respective Boards of Directors and Chairmen.

The governance structure and mission of the Ministry of Tourism is strong and has allowed us to not only roll out a range of policies, programmes and initiatives that have contributed significantly to the previously booming sector but also to muscle up to deal head-on with the challenges brought by COVID-19.  

Mr. Speaker, I must acknowledge your steady-handed leadership of the house and the many years of public service. You have done a fine job!

Mr. Speaker, to my colleagues, on both sides of this noble House, I say thanks for the very good relations we have enjoyed over the year. Your encouragement and advice are always graciously accepted. 

PRESENTATION FLOW

Mr. Speaker, we are fully cognizant of the fact that we are pressed for time and as such, I intend to go through this critical presentation with detail and precision.

I will first:

THE REALITY NOW

Let me just quickly throw in Mr. Speaker that as Governments around the world continue to reopen economies amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism here and elsewhere is taking centre stage.  And for good reason. In Jamaica’s case, the tourism industry is the nation’s bread and butter.

It is responsible for 9.5% of GDP with the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) going beyond that direct percentage noting that just under a third of Jamaica’s economy is dependent on the tourism industry. Beyond that, it contributes 50% of the foreign exchange earnings of the economy and generates 354,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs.

JAMAICA’S STELLAR 2019 PERFORMANCE

In 2019, Jamaica welcomed approximately 4.3 million visitors, with 2.7 million stopover visitors each spending an average 8.6 nights and 1.6 million cruise visitors whose combined spending contributed to the destination earning US$3.64 billion. Stopover arrivals increased by 8.4% compared to 2018, and overall foreign exchange earnings increased by a whopping 10.3%, up from US$3.3 billion in 2018.

The room stock in 2019 was approximately 33,000, which represented over 1,200 new rooms opened last year encompassing the North Coast and Kingston. In fact, Mr. Speaker leading local and global hotel companies continued to show great interest in Jamaica, with Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in the tourism sector averaging US$200 million per year for the last three years.

Mr. Speaker, the more important story behind these numbers is the fact that we have been steadily repositioning tourism to ensure that there is greater local retention of tourism revenues. When we took office in 2016, Jamaica was retaining 30 cents of every dollar earned in the industry. We are now retaining 40.8 cents, a 36% increase, which is among the highest in the region. 

Mr. Speaker, as I also believe that earnings are the most important metric of ensuring that tourism promotes national economic interests, I take great pleasure in the fact that the country has been able to increase earnings by US$1 billion in just over three years.  We also outpaced, by 2,000 jobs, our projection for the sector to generate 127,000 jobs by 2021. 

At the end of 2019, tourism was projected to create 41,000 new jobs by 2022. We recognize now that the impact of COVID-19 will result in a revision of this estimate but the broader point being made is that tourism remains one of the most critical catalysts for job creation in the Jamaican economy.

Just as an important note Mr. Speaker, the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN) has now classified the direct employment in the tourism sector at 170,000 workers to include employees in the accommodations subsector, travel agencies, ground transportation providers, workers in the attractions sub-sector, craft vendors, etc.

COVID-19

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), caused by SARS-CoV-2 and first officially identified in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, was of immediate concern to the Ministry of Tourism and our agencies. In January of this year, as the virus began to spread rapidly and the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, we were already in emergency mode; carefully analyzing the situation on a continual basis and putting in place contingencies to treat the growing crisis.

We were also in constant dialogue with the Office of the Prime Minister and the Ministry of Health and Wellness as the situation continued to worsen, affecting first our cruise industry and later our stopover arrivals. As was anticipated, the World Health Organization, on March 11, 2020, declared COVID-19 a pandemic as it swept across countries throughout the world.

Tourist traffic eventually ground to a complete halt as nations across the world, including Jamaica, closed or severely restricted movement of people across borders and effectively went into shutdown mode. Our booming tourism industry Mr. Speaker went from thousands of arrivals per day to ZERO, leading to the closure of hotels, villas, attractions, widespread job losses and a massive reduction in income for tourism, agriculture, manufacturing, craft, ground transportation providers and a myriad of other sectors.  The estimated loss of direct tourism revenue to the Government due to COVID-19 for April 2020 to March 2021 is J$38.4 billion. The estimated overall loss to the economy from visitor expenditure from stopover arrivals is J$107.6 billion. In short, the nation is losing out on roughly J$400 million per day, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker, you can see therefore, that the phased reopening of our borders to international travellers on June 15 is not just about tourism but a matter of economic life or death. We need to get the over 350,000 pandemic-displaced workers back to work. We need to provide some salvation to the many businesses and workers that right now are facing very tough times.  

Mr. Speaker, I want to assure you that the reopening is being carried out safely and in a way that protects our frontline tourism workers, Jamaican citizens and our visitors.  As our Prime Minister stresses, we must continue to protect lives while securing our livelihoods.  

Mr. Speaker, our Government has demonstrated consistency in focus and resolve in containing the pandemic and with excellent results.  We do not intend to undo this good work.

RECOVERY TASK FORCE PROTOCOLS

This is why Mr. Speaker in April we established the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Taskforce, with public-private sector collaboration consisting of key stakeholders from the tourism sector, the Ministry of Tourism, and agencies of the Ministry. It is supported by two Working Groups – one for general tourism and another for cruise tourism – and a Secretariat.

The Taskforce has been mandated to bring about a realistic view of the sector’s baseline or starting position; develop scenarios for multiple versions of the future; establish the strategic posture for the sector as well as a broad direction of the journey back to growth; establish actions and strategic imperatives that will be reflected across various scenarios; and establish trigger points to tackle action, which include a planned vision in a world that is learning to evolve rapidly.

Mr. Speaker, just give me a moment to thank my colleague Minister, the Hon. Dr. Christopher Tufton, and his hard working team, for their cooperation and support throughout this trying period.

Mr. Speaker, PricewaterhouseCoopers Senior Partner, Wilfred Baghaloo, chairs the COVID-19 General Tourism Working Group sub-committee. We also brought international crisis recovery expert Jessica Shannon on board the COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Task Force’s secretariat, in an effort to strengthen the country’s resilience plan for the sector.

Shannon is a PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC) Advisory Partner and has served as their deployed point partner throughout the Ebola crisis, focusing on the response and recovery efforts in West Africa. In this context, she served as a senior advisor to private companies and government organizations in the design of strategy, policies and protocols as well as risk identification and monitoring. She was essential in working with the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention among others to work out the protocols for the Ebola pandemic.

Mr. Speaker, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) along with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) formulated the tourism protocols, following extensive consultation with the Ministries of Health, National Security and Foreign Affairs as well as other local and international partners.

Mr. Speaker, our world-class Tourism Health and Safety protocols are being guided by a five-point recovery strategy:

Mr. Speaker, our protocols have received the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) ‘Safe Travels’ stamp, which will allow travellers to recognize governments and companies around the world that have adopted health and hygiene global standardized protocols.

Our protocols Mr. Speaker were designed based on benchmarks of nearly 20 markets in the Caribbean and globally as well as international health agencies.  They cover big and small hotels, guesthouses, attractions, beaches, transportation, shopping, social activities (restaurants and bars) and cruise ports.

Mr. Speaker, the fundamental elements of the tourism protocols are:

Mr. Speaker, the first line of protection we have put in place is a resilient corridor for tourism travel, along with one for business travel. 

Mr. Speaker, businesses within the corridor will go through extensive training and will not be allowed to open until they have been assessed by TPDCo, which will happen on a phased basis.

Mr. Speaker, to drive compliance with these protocols, TPDCo will play a lead role.  They have redeployed existing product quality officers to increase the complement of persons dedicated to overseeing compliance from 11 to 70, to ensure they have proper capacity to manage this task.

Mr. Speaker, TPDCo has been conducting COVID-19 training programmes for all workers, with over 20,000 already trained. Training will provide detailed information on how to apply the protocols as well as hands-on practice and role-play.  We want to ensure our workers know exactly what they need to do, and how to respond to the variety of different situations they will encounter.  The training will not stop at technical skills but will also include communication support and emotional coping mechanisms. 

Mr. Speaker, as a next step, businesses are being assessed by TPDCo to ensure they are compliant with the protocols and that the workers have been trained before they are allowed to re-open. 

Mr. Speaker, if the assessment is successful, they will receive a certificate, which must be displayed on property so that everyone can see that they are protocol compliant.

It is important, Mr. Speaker, to recognize that the support will not stop once an assessment has been completed.  Workers will receive ongoing training and the comfort of knowing businesses will be monitored for ongoing compliance.

Mr. Speaker, an element of protection is being prepared for emergency response.  It is critical to be prepared for the risk that we may encounter a COVID-19 positive case so we can respond quickly and decisively. 

Mr. Speaker, all workers will have access to an onsite, trained COVID-19 Safety Point Person and an onsite or on-call medical professional.  This combination of resources will provide workers with the framework they need for quick health consultations, isolation and testing, if required.

Finally, Mr. Speaker we are in late stage discussions with insurance and global logistics providers.  This will allow travellers who test positive to be quickly isolated and repatriated.  These costs will be covered privately Mr. Speaker thus reducing the strain on our public health system, making sure healthcare capacity remains consistent for our workers and communities. 

Mr. Speaker, while implementing these health and safety protocols, we are being mindful not to overshadow the “heart and soul of Jamaica”, which has made us such an attractive destination for locals and visitors alike. Mr. Speaker, we do not want sanitization and physical distancing to create a sterile culture.  We will continue to infuse our vibrancy, warmth and culture in everything we do.

ASSISTING THOSE AFFECTED

Mr. Speaker, our focus has not only been on safety and security but also the financial health of the sector to assist tourism workers and businesses and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including grants through the COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) programme.

Mr. Speaker, let me take a moment to commend Finance Minister, Dr. Nigel Clarke for implementing this very innovative support programme for the many thousands of dislocated workers across the country. Mr. Speaker, the CARE programme had four elements:

Mr. Speaker, we are in discussions with Jamaica National Group Ltd. and the National Export-Import (EXIM) Bank, which have over half a billion dollars available to lend to enable SMTEs to secure COVID-19 personal protective equipment. 

Mr. Speaker, in addition, the Ministry of Finance will be providing J$1.2 billion in COVID-19 Tourism Grants to support smaller operators in the tourism and related sectors, inclusive of hotels, attractions and tours, which are registered with the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo).

JCTI ONLINE TRAINING

Now, one programme of which we are particularly proud Mr. Speaker was  introduced by the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation (JCTI). Under this initiative some 5,000 tourism workers have so far completed free online training.  The programme was launched in April as part of our thrust to ensure the continued development of employees in the sector, who were laid off as a result of the closure of hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic. The courses will run until late July.

Training began with an initial 11 courses namely: Servsafe training in food safety, laundry attendant, gift room attendant, kitchen steward/porter, public area sanitation, hospitality team leader, certified banquet server, certified restaurant server, certified hospitality supervisor, introduction to Spanish, and disc jock (DJ) certification.

Since then, Tourism and Law has been added in collaboration with the University of the West Indies (UWI) Faculty of Law.

THE WORK MUST GO ON!

Mr. Speaker, COVID-19 or no COVID-19 the work goes on!

Promoting our five networks

Mr. Speaker, last year the Ministry of Tourism commissioned a demand study that confirmed a high demand for local inputs in the tourism sector. It identified the need for J$391.6 billion in goods from the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. A breakdown of this figure showed J$352 billion for manufacturing and J$39.6 billion for agriculture.  

As I have noted in previous presentations Mr. Speaker one of our strategies for plugging leakages in the tourism sector is to strengthen linkages between tourism and other productive sectors, especially manufacturing and agriculture, to promote import substitution.

This agenda is largely being executed by the Tourism Linkages Network (TLN). Over the last year, we committed J$200 million to boost the capacity of the TLN to promote the level of inclusivity that will increasingly connect the ordinary Jamaican to the tourism product and the product to the ordinary Jamaican. 

Mr. Speaker, we continue to envision the way forward for tourism linkages.  Given that Jamaica is one of CARICOM’s more prominent tourism economies, has the largest international airport, and has the potential to develop its agriculture and agro-processing, and is close to big supplier markets (USA, Mexico and Dominican Republic), we intend to explore the option of making Jamaica a Supply Logistics Hub for the region.

New Marketing Strategy

Mr. Speaker, of course, this leads us into using the power of digital technologies and the social revolution created by the evolution of the Internet. In that vein, the Jamaica Tourist Board has adopted a new marketing strategy and brand positioning with the tagline:  JAMAICA, Heartbeat of the World.  This strategy provides the JTB with access to more tools to talk to the consumer where they consume content and make decisions. In 2019, there were 1.3 trillion Internet searches for travel, of which 832 million searches were for Jamaica, representing 1.5% of global searches for travel!

Tourism Workers Welfare

Mr. Speaker, I now turn to our legislative and policy agenda.

Mr. Speaker, as it relates to our first-class tourism workers, in 2019 a major game change towards improving the welfare of tourism workers was achieved when the Tourism Workers Pension Act passed through both houses of Parliament and received the Governor General’s assent. The Act was gazetted in January 2020, and funds in the amount of $250 million were disbursed to activate the pension scheme in March of 2020.

Mr. Speaker, this Act establishes a defined contributory pension scheme for all tourism workers, whether they are self-employed, employed or contract workers. I appointed a Board of Trustees for the Scheme and the Ministry contracted an Investment Manager and Fund Administrator to ensure that the Pension scheme is fully operational by the end of 3rd quarter 2020/2021.

Mr. Speaker,  the Tourism Workers’ Pension Scheme has been a priority objective  of mine since coming into office and I am pleased that a comprehensive pension scheme for all workers in our tourism sector is finally up and running.

Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation (JCTI)

Mr. Speaker, the JCTI is yet another game-changing initiative of the Ministry of Tourism. It has been tasked with implementing the Ministry’s Human Capital Development Strategy for the tourism sector and helping entrepreneurs connect to the tourism value chain through the Craft Development Institute (CDI). Since its establishment, the JCTI has facilitated the certification of two thousand and seven (2,007) persons in areas such as Guest Servicing, Bartending and Mixology, Culinary Arts, and Hospitality.  In addition, three hundred and eighty-four (384) high school students are currently in the final year of the two-year Hospitality & Tourism Management Programme.

Additionally, Mr. Speaker in 2019 the JCTI partnered with the Port Authority of Jamaica (PAJ) to complete construction of the Artisan Village at Hampden Wharf, Falmouth, which we expect to open early in the coming financial year. This Artisan Village is to be themed to tell the unique story of Falmouth, and offer Jamaicans and visitors a unique opportunity to share local food, drink, art, craft and culture. Approximately 175 Craft Vendors/Traders, Mr. Speaker, have received training in innovative craft development and effective leadership to equip them with the relevant skills to sustain their entrepreneurial business ventures.

Tourism Linkages Policy

On the matter of linkages Mr. Speaker, the Tourism Linkages Policy provides a framework for implementation and monitoring of the Tourism Linkages Programme and was approved by Cabinet as a White Paper in July 2019 for tabling in Parliament. The Tourism Linkages Network Programme was designed to create, strengthen and sustain linkages between the tourism sector and other productive sectors of the economy — such as agriculture and manufacturing.

Mr. Speaker, coordinated focus is undertaken through five Network areas – Gastronomy, Health and Wellness, Shopping, Sports and Entertainment, and Knowledge – that will strengthen synergies between key stakeholders to develop and execute strategic activities. The primary aim is to increase the consumption of local goods and services while creating employment, and generating and retaining the country’s foreign exchange earning potential.

The Linkages Network also implemented an Agri-Linkages Exchange (ALEX) platform, where local farmers can sell their produce to hoteliers. Mr. Speaker, the ALEX platform is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Tourism, through the Tourism Linkages Network, and the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, through the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA). The online platform was developed in 2017 to establish a bridge between sellers (farmers) and buyers (tourism stakeholders) to facilitate the exchange of goods. It allows farmers across Jamaica to upload the respective produce cultivated and allows for further purchase.

However, Mr. Speaker, with many Hotels still closed focus is now being placed on providing linkages to restaurants and supermarkets. Through the Tourism Enhancement Fund, we donated communication equipment valued at approximately $1.5 million to assist farmers affected by the dormant tourism sector, which was their primary market.

The linkages policy was previously tabled and a copy is available for each member.

Cruise Marketing

The Caribbean is among one of the most lucrative cruise destinations in the world. It is therefore a critical prong in our tourism value chain and growth recovery strategy. Each cruise passenger represents a potential stopover visitor who, based on their experiences after disembarking, may return for an extended stay.

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Tourism and our agencies, including the Jamaica Tourist Board, Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and Jamaica Vacations Ltd. (JAMVAC), were happy to partner with the Port Authority of Jamaica and other stakeholders in welcoming over 2,000 visitors on the first cruise ship, the Marella Discovery 2, to Port Royal in January 2020.  This huge vision of Prime Minister Andrew Holness became a reality and all of Jamaica was incredibly proud!

Going forward Mr. Speaker as we prepare for the return of cruise, later this year, the Tourism Ministry, Port Authority and the Ministry of Health in full coordination with the Professor Gordon Shirley chaired cruise recovery arm of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce, will in time outline the measures for the safe return of cruise tourism. Cruise tourism plays a crucial role Mr. Speaker in many communities around the island and it is an imperative that we get it restarted in line with strict health and safety protocols.

St. Thomas - Tourism Destination Development & Management

Mr. Speaker, I am happy to report that the Tourism Destination Development and Management Plan for the parish of St. Thomas (TDDMP) was completed during the period 2019/2020.  The TDDMP is the main policy and planning framework for the development of tourism in St. Thomas up to 2030. The plan aims to deliver inclusive economic development driven by a competitive tourism product that leverages the unique assets of that parish. The Plan identifies a number of projects/initiatives and offers a strategy for implementation between 2020 and 2030.

Cabinet approved the plan for tabling in Parliament. This was done yesterday, Mr. Speaker.  A copy is available for each member.

Beaches Programme

Mr. Speaker, major improvements are in the works for thirteen (13) public beaches across seven parishes. These are Rocky Point Beach, St. Thomas; Winnifred Beach, Portland; Guts River Beach, Manchester; Orchard Beach and Watson Taylor Beaches, Hanover; Alligator Pond and Crane Road Beaches, St. Elizabeth; Rio Nuevo and Pagee Beaches, St. Mary; Salem and Priory Beaches, St. Ann; and Closed Harbour and Success Beaches, St. James. These beaches will all receive at a minimum where applicable changing and rest room facilities, perimeter fencing, parking, gazebos, band stands, children play areas, seating, lighting, walkways, electricity, water and sewage treatment facilities.

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to announce that the much-anticipated $1.3 billion state-of-the- art Closed Harbour Beach Park Development project in St James will be opened to the public by the end of the year.  The project, primarily funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), will see the conversion of the 16-acre property into a world-class recreational space with amenities that will allow it to operate as a free access licensed public beach.

No doubt Mr. Speaker, with the onset of COVID-19 and attendant budgetary issues going forward some of these projects may take longer to come to fruition but rest assured our mission is to ensure that despite the many challenges we will get the job done so that more Jamaicans can enjoy our beautiful beaches.

New Source Markets for Visitors

Mr. Speaker, before COVID-19 greater diversity in visitor source markets was being aggressively pursued in Europe, Asia and Latin America, with additional seats being committed by our airline partners to support this growth.

Mr. Speaker, on December 2, 2019, a year and a half after leading a delegation of tourism officials into a meeting with senior executives of LATAM Airlines Group at their headquarters in, Santiago, Chile, Jamaica welcomed the arrival of the first of three weekly scheduled nonstop flights by the airline between their major hub in Lima, Peru, and Montego Bay, Jamaica. These flights fed traffic from Brazil, Chile, Argentina and other Latin American markets.  Like everything else, COVID-19 put a halt to this but our commitment to developing the Latin American market is unwavering, and in due course, we intend to bring back this critical service.

Mr. Speaker, two other promising markets, which are being specifically targeted are Japan and India. Jamaica participated in the 2019 Tourism Expo Japan, confirming the decision to re-enter that market; and since the expo have hosted numerous meetings and seminars with airlines and tour operators. In India, there have been a series of meetings with tour operators and media to enhance the destination’s image particularly for weddings, honeymoons, and sports. 

Workers’ Housing

Mr. Speaker, another game changing initiative that we will continue to pursue is the Resort Squatter Settlements Upgrade Programme. It supports the regularization of 535 households in the Grange Pen community in St. James through land titling as well as infrastructure upgrades, which include paving roads, improving drainage infrastructure, the construction of a sewage treatment plant, the connection to the water system of the National Water Commission and access to electricity.

I am happy to report Mr. Speaker that this project will be replicated in other areas around the island starting with the parish of Westmoreland. 

Tourism Strategy and Action Plan

It is important to note Mr. Speaker that a Tourism Strategy and Action Plan 2030 (TSAP) is being developed in collaboration with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). This plan will update the Sustainable Tourism Master Plan 2002 and the tourism component in the Vision 2030 plan.

It will provide a framework to guide the development of the tourism sector up to 2030, incorporating the new realities of the industry. The TSAP will focus on the competitiveness of the tourism sector, especially in relation to information technology and the Internet, and the resilience of the sector, especially in relation to climate change. The TSAP is expected to be completed by 2021/2022.

Negril - Tourism Destination Development & Management

Also, Mr. Speaker, a Tourism Destination Management Plan is being developed for the resort town of Negril. 

Negril was identified for assessment because of ongoing destination management challenges, which put at risk the visitors’ expectation of a safe, secure and seamless experience.

The Plan is expected to be completed in FY 2020/21.

Destination Assurance Framework and Strategy (DAFS)

On to another important policy update Mr Speaker, the Destination Assurance Framework and Strategy is aimed at ensuring that the integrity, quality and standards of Jamaica's tourism product is maintained. Mr. Speaker, a consultant was recently engaged and the works will begin shortly. The Draft Green Paper should be finalized by the end of November 2020.

Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management Programme for the Tourism Sector

Mr. Speaker, the Disaster Risk Management Programme for the Tourism Sector aims to mainstream Disaster Risk Management within the tourism sector through the Climate Change and Multi-Hazard and Contingency Planning Programme.

Mr. Speaker, capacity building and training of public and private sector tourism personnel is a main focus. Already Mr. Speaker, six (6) earthquake and tsunami sensitization workshops were held in Port Antonio, Kingston, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril and the South Coast. Approximately 200 persons were sensitized across all resort areas.

Tourism Environmental Stewardship Initiative (TESI)

Mr. Speaker, another noteworthy development is the Tourism Environmental Stewardship Initiative, which aims to strengthen the capacity of the tourism sector and its stakeholders in environmental management and sustainable tourism practices. TESI supports environmental awareness and stewardship actions in the sector.

In this regard, a training manual was developed for use in the sector and three environment workshops were held in Montego Bay, Negril and the South Coast.

Rural Economic Development Initiative Phase 2 (REDI II)

Mr. Speaker, the Second Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI II) Project aimed at boosting community tourism enterprises (CTEs) and agricultural enterprises, as well as strengthening the institutional capacity of public entities is on in earnest. REDI II will build on the work of REDI I, with the expectation that at least 12,000 businesses will benefit from the REDI II project in the areas of market access, climate smart approaches and capacity building.

Mr. Speaker, the Ministry of Tourism has collaborated with Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) and the World Bank in developing the outline and Project Implementation Plan. Mr. Speaker, negotiations have been concluded and final approval granted by the World Bank Board. The total value of the project is US$40 million to be accessed by community tourism enterprises (CTEs) and agricultural enterprises.

Milk River Mineral Bath and Bath Fountain St. Thomas Public Private Partnership

Mr. Speaker, the thrust is on to have the Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa and the Milk River Mineral Bath transformed into world class Health and Wellness facilities with high income earning potential. Impending privatization is designed to be consistent with major strategies of tourism development in Jamaica and the engagement of the private sector in the management of national assets.

The Enterprise Team for the PPP was reappointed by Cabinet in June 2019 to carry out the objective of completing the pre-divestment activities as per cabinet decision to make the facilities more attractive (to remove impediments to the divestment).

GENERATION C

Mr. Speaker, for the last few years we have heard much about the disparities and divides between generations — what they want, how they get their information, and how and why they travel. Gen Z takes in information quickly and visually, and are quick to become loyal to destinations, brands or ideas. Millennials’, Mr. Speaker, desire for experiences over things has shaped and fueled the sharing economy. Hard-working Gen Xers focus on family and need rest and relaxation. And despite the disparaging “Okay Boomer” phenomenon, Baby Boomers have, Mr. Speaker, doubled down on sharing the legacy of travel with family members and they are more willing to invest in tracing heritage, getting to those “bucket” destinations, and immersing themselves in travel experiences.

But, Mr. Speaker, as we get to the fulsome recovery phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in the coming weeks and months or even a year, we will all have had a shared global experience that is intergenerational.  We are now all part of Generation C - the post-COVID generation. GEN-C will be defined by a societal shift in mindset that will change the way that we look at—and do—many things. And in what becomes our “new normal” economy GEN-C will emerge from our homes. Post-social distancing, we will go back to offices and workplaces, and eventually back to a world that will include seeing friends and family, perhaps smaller gatherings, reimagined cultural and sporting events, and eventually to GEN-C travel, Mr. Speaker.

And that return to travel is crucial for the global economy, Mr. Speaker.  Across the world, travel and tourism account for 11% of the world’s GDP and creates more than 320 million jobs for workers serving 1.4 billion travellers annually.  These numbers do not tell the whole story.  They are just part of a connected global economy of which travel and tourism are the lifeblood — various sectors from technology, hospitality construction, finance, to agriculture are all interdependent with travel and tourism.

Mr. Speaker, there are still many unanswered questions. What is that new normal? When will we move from crisis to recovery? What form does a post-COVID exit strategy take? What do we need to do before GEN-C will travel again? What technologies, data and protocols will be essential to us as GEN-Cs to make us feel safe again?

But even as we are still in a state of social distancing Mr. Speaker, early data shows that the desire to travel is still there. As humans, we crave new experiences and the excitement of travel. Travel adds so much to the rhythm and richness of our lives. So, as GEN-C we need a path forward.

There is no question that tourism is among the sectors hit hardest by this crisis, but it is also at the heart of the recovery. The most resilient economies will be driving the recovery, and travel and tourism will be a multiplier—and an employment engine across all sectors. Mr. Speaker, the global imperative is that we work together across sectors, across regions, to develop a framework that can help solve the global challenge of how to restart the travel and tourism economy.

Mr. Speaker, Jamaica has a unique perspective on resilience—the ability to recover quickly from difficult conditions. As an island nation, we have always had to think about resilience. An island is a paradox in that in many ways it is more vulnerable than other countries—witness Haiti’s devastating earthquake, Puerto Rico’s destruction by Hurricane Maria — but in many ways being an island provides strength and the ability to act with agility.

Last year, Mr. Speaker, working with the University of the West Indies, we officially launched the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) and we quickly developed satellite centres around the world, including Seychelles, South Africa, Nigeria and Morocco. Tomorrow, Mr. Speaker, the centre will host a virtual panel discussion with experts from around the world who will be sharing ideas and solutions around issues vital to restarting the GEN-C travel and tourism economy. Together we will work to find technological solutions, infrastructure enhancements, training and policy frameworks that are essential to tackling the health and safety, transport, destination and overall approach to tourism resilience.

Mr. Speaker, the new shared global challenge requires shared solutions, and we are committed to finding the way forward. Our entire generation depends on it.

CLOSING

Mr. Speaker, I believe that in our current COVID-19 world, health will be the new wealth. Visitors will continue to seek experiences but they will be looking through holistic wellness lens.  This includes wellness programmes, natural beauty treatments and fresh food with fewer travel miles. This makes Jamaica an easy fit for the “new normal” because this has always been our focus. Our marketing arm, Mr. Speaker, the Jamaica Tourist Board has been doing an excellent job of inspiring confidence in both the local and international markets that Jamaica is a safe and secure destination for all.

However, even beyond COVID-19, the JTB’s 'Heartbeat of the World' campaign is leveraging Jamaica’s natural assets, to reinforce our position as a global leader, among travel destinations and establish Jamaica as the single destination every traveller must experience.

Mr. Speaker, as I always say, the tourism industry is Jamaica’s bread and butter. A huge chunk of our nation’s GDP, 50% of our foreign exchange earnings and in excess of 354,000 jobs are in a precarious position. Due to tourism’s transversal nature and the linkages with other productive sectors, it also stimulates agriculture, manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, retail, insurance, banking and the creative economy.

Mr. Speaker let us all work together in these extraordinary times to get tourism back on its feet! Our welfare and that of future generations depend on it.

God bless you.

Source: Ministry of Tourism, Jamaica