Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett says his Ministry remains committed to working with Jamaica’s rural communities to strengthen their resilience, create jobs and build economic opportunities. This focus on rural development is a critical pillar in the Ministry’s plan to rebuild the industry, which has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking at the Tourism Awareness Week Webinar, hosted at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel recently, the Minister said: “As we re-imagine our tourism product in these uncertain times, the focus on rural development seems quite timely. Tourism in rural areas will provide key opportunities for recovery, as these communities seek to bounce back from the harsh economic setback caused by the pandemic.”
He outlined that pre-pandemic, there were 1.5 billion international tourist arrivals; travel and tourism accounted for 10.3% of global GDP; and it employed 1 in 10 persons around the world.
“At home, as we welcomed 4.3 million visitors, the sector earned US$3.7 billion, contributed 9.5% to the nation’s GDP and generated some 170,000 direct jobs,” Mr. Bartlett said.
“Unfortunately, both at home and abroad, COVID -19 has resulted in major job losses, while the falloff in business and earnings has been astounding… However, tourism is the heartbeat of our economy and it will serve as the catalyst of Jamaica’s Post-COVID-19 economic recovery,” said the Minister.
One key project the Ministry of Tourism and key partners will be completing soon, to benefit rural communities, is Jamaica’s first Artisan Village at the Hampden Wharf in Falmouth, which is on target to open at the end of 2020. The TEF-financed project will see other artisan villages being established in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Port Antonio, and Negril.
The Minister also highlighted community tourism initiatives being carried out in partnership with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, under its Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI), which is facilitating the sustainable growth of community tourism enterprises across the island.
Just recently, the second phase of the initiative (REDI II) was launched at the Office of the Prime Minister, which is a US$40-million World Bank-funded programme seeking to unlock the full potential of rural communities.
Stressing the importance of developing rural communities, he shared that globally, persons in rural communities who have small and medium enterprises drive 80% of tourism.
“The essence of the experiences of visitors across the globe is found in rural areas. Tourism has that capacity to transform rural communities from sleepy areas into buzzing centres of economic activity and we saw that here in Jamaica. Ocho Rios for example, was a sleepy fishing village 60 years ago and today it is a buzzing centre of commerce – creating jobs and providing economic well-being,” said the Minister.
“We want this transformation to happen all across Jamaica in our rural areas. We are now re-defining the destination to enable that transformation. So, St. Thomas in the next frontier for us and the rest of the South Coast is also on the radar for us,” he added.
The Tourism Awareness Week 2020 webinar was hosted by the Ministry of Tourism and its agencies, under the theme: “Tourism and Rural Development”. The event, was moderated by Dervan Malcolm, and included presenters such as, Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett; Director of Tourism, Donovan White; Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President, Clifton Reader; and Chairman of Jakes Hotel and Villas, Jason Henzell; Angella Bennett – the Jamaica Tourist Board’s (JTB) Regional Director, Canada; and Donnie Dawson – JTB’s Deputy Director, The Americas.