Jamaica’s tourism industry may find itself in need of a drastic overhaul as data from the World Bank points out that the island, among other Caribbean countries, is now lagging in competitiveness behind other regions in the world.
Tourism, which is currently one of Jamaica’s largest earners of foreign exchange, was on Wednesday red-flagged by the World Bank as one of the long-term risks and vulnerabilities that the country faces, in addition to its legacy of high debt, policy uncertainty and recent flooding.
According to lead economist at the World Bank, Philip Schuler, the Caribbean’s tourism model has shown trends of decline in competitiveness, with countries in south Asia, east Asia and sub-Saharan Africa expected to grow at faster annual rates in tourism and investment than the 3.6 per cent Caribbean countries will see over the next 10 years.
“The Caribbean is a very tourism-dependent region; it’s growing, but it’s growing much more slowly than the world as a whole,” Schuler told media representatives during a briefing on the World Bank’s analysis of the macroeconomic outlook for Jamaica in the context of the new US$70-million Development Policy Loan approved by the bank.
He added that data presented by the World Travel and Tourism Councils places the Caribbean in the bottom half based on the region’s average annual contribution of tourism to gross domestic product (GDP) and investment.
“Essentially, the model of tourism in the Caribbean and Jamaica is one that is very much focused on enclave, all-inclusive beach resorts, and that is not a fast-growing segment of the world tourism market,” Schuler said.
He reckons that Jamaica and other Caribbean islands could increase visitor arrivals with the introduction of more ecotourism, cultural tourism and farm tourism.
According to the World Bank, Jamaica’s economy has been moving on a positive trajectory over the last four to five years, with year-on-year increases in GDP and total employment. The same has also been reflected in the country’s external balances, with 2016 recognised as the best in 20 years when the current account balance almost balanced GDP, led by increases in net export services including tourism and BPO services, as well as a declining trade deficit.
ROOM FOR MORE SMALL BUSINESSES TO GET IN THE GAME
Nonetheless, the World Bank believes that Jamaica can capitalise on a lot more opportunities in tourism to reflect the changes in the global demographics.
“The generation that’s getting older and travelling less liked cruise, all inclusive resorts. The younger generation — the millennials — are looking for more authentic experiences. Learn how to cook Jamaican food as well as going to the beach — there are new types of products and a lot of opportunities,” he said, adding that more tourists are now making visiting arrangements on their own with the introduction of Airbnb and TripAdvisor.
“That wasn’t always to the advantage of Jamaica where international companies take that money from the traveller and keep the profit and handing out small amounts to line up different activities at the resort and not spilling over into other parts of the economy,” he reasoned.
Schuler noted that the change in how international guests interact with destination markets presents an opportunity for more small businesses to get into the game and “to link up with younger travellers”.
Through the Rural Economic Development Initiative, the World Bank and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund have supported projects in the Cockpit Country and Rasta Village in St James.
Still, Country Manager Galina Sotirova says the hotel standards are tailored to the big tourist resorts and creates a real obstacle to the development of small projects.
“[What] you hear from a lot of the project managers is that the standards that they have to comply with in order to get onto the tourism website and be registered with the tourism board are not suitable for the kind of tourism they are looking at,” Sotirova said.
She added that there are regularity issues that need to be addressed, and the World Bank is working with the Government to ensure more support is given in how smaller firms market and sell their products.