By RON FANFAIR
Tourist arrivals out of Canada have helped to sustain Jamaica’s tourism industry at the height of the global economic meltdown.
Driven by Jamaica Tourist Board’s (JTB) Canadian manager, Sandra Scott and her team, arrivals jumped from 163,000 in 2007 to a record 230,000 last year which was an increase of 27 per cent. Arrivals in the first three months of this year, which have accounted for 118,000 visitors so far, suggest that Canada is on pace to equal or perhaps surpass last year’s mark.
“Canada saved our bacon,” JTB chairman and the country’s director of tourism, John Lynch, said while in Toronto last week to meet with travel partners. “The performance was so strong here that when everybody was dipping and sliding, we were able to maintain positive growth.”
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett who, along with Jamaica Vacations executive director, Lionel Reid, also made the trip to Toronto, acknowledged Scott and her staff for their superlative effort that produced double-digit growth last year and enabled Jamaica to hold its own and “buck” world trends in extremely difficult global economic circumstances.
“Tourism in Jamaica represents not our hope, but our only hope because in the current economic downturn we have lost whatever little competitive or comparative advantage we might have had, certainly on the commodity side,” said Reid. “We have not been able to compete in agriculture since the preferential trade agreements have been lifted and the global demand for bauxite has contracted significantly to the point where our earnings have fallen by nearly 50 per cent from US$300 million.
“We still maintain some comparative level and advantage in terms of unique commodities like our Blue Mountain coffee, ginger and spices that are unique in that they are not produced in many parts of the world. But we suffer further from the fact that we are a small island state, and without the capacity to compete on the basis of volume and because we are constrained by scale, it means our product type becomes an issue. But that is the reality of commodities.”
In order to remain competitive and provide a distinctive product, Bartlett said the JTB has collaborated with the University of Technology to establish the Jamaica School of Hospitality that will provide competent base training to industry professionals and an opportunity to become senior managers in the sector. This initiative will also ensure that Jamaicans manage the industry.
He also said that, despite the financial crisis, the government is still committed to increasing arrivals to five million while generating $5 billion in income over the next five years in what they have dubbed “The Drive for Five.”
“To achieve this, we have embarked on a strong marketing program and we are engaging in market diversification, moving from the traditional legacy markets of the north to the emerging markets of the south,” Bartlett said. “We are also increasing airlift to Jamaica which is presently the most connected destination in the Caribbean, improving our registered attractions which now stand at 159 and restoring Kingston to make it the country’s financial district and centre of government.”