The Caribbean’s beauty, the warmth and the hospitality is world renowned. It’s an intoxicating mix of natural paradise and welcoming accommodations. The Caribbean’s tourism product is as diverse in its offerings, luring visitors to keep coming back year after year. Countries such as Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad &Tobago, The Bahamas and Grenada are some of the world’s most favoured tourist destinations. These countries not only offer the wonderful perks of nature, but world-class attractions as well.
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As you may have imagined, tourism has made significant contributions to the economies of the Caribbean. Such contribution ripples through different sectors of society, positively affecting almost every area of life in the Caribbean.
This article represents the first of a three part series on the benefits of tourism to the Caribbean, specifically to Jamaica, Trinidad &Tobago and Grenada. Today, we will be focusing on the myriad of benefits that Jamaica enjoys as a prime stop for thousands of tourist every year.
The economic benefits of tourism to Jamaica are unquestioned. In fact, each year the sector posts the highest levels of foreign exchange receipts (approx. US$2b). From expensive five star hotels to the orange vendor on the street, the impact of foreign dollars exalts tourism attractions as national treasures.
Of course, the government’s coffers also directly benefit from the welcomed visitors. Not only does tourism raise tax revenues, it also creates jobs as well. The benefits also trickle down to service providers of all kinds such as restaurants promoting local cuisine and even the farmers who supply them with fresh produce.
With the improvement in commercial activity comes the creation of more jobs. Thousands of Jamaicans work directly or indirectly in tourism. In fact, tourism employs the second largest number of Jamaicans (approx. 200,000) both directly (in hotels, transport, attractions and craft), as well as indirectly (trading, manufacturing, banking, etc mainly in and around resort towns).
How does tourism employ so many people? The industry is simply huge in Jamaica; with just under 30,000 rooms (with some 8,000 planned hotel rooms still on the table), Jamaica probably has the Caribbean’s most diverse room stock and tourist offerings.
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The interesting thing is, it’s not simply about the major players in the industry. The small man benefits as well. To cite one example, Jamaica’s Sandals Resort Farmers Program grew in 1996 from 10 farmers supplying two hotels to 80 farmers in 2004 supplying hotels island-wide. Sales increased from $60,000 to $3.3 million in just 3 years, while the hotels received higher-quality produce for less than it would cost to import. Hotels that buy local produce, decorations and furnishings set themselves apart and provide unique experiences, encouraging longer stays and possibly entire vacations.
Accommodating tourists requires huge investments in infrastructure. This is not simply limited to hotels and resorts, but also public facilities and institutions as well. To accommodate cruise mega ships for example; Jamaica invests in expanded port facilities, while seeking to attract more visitors. Still, improvements in airports and roads often lag behind, to the frustration of hotel and resort operators, because arrival by ship is usually the most economical, and passengers spend money throughout the communities, not just at one resort.
Like most industries, uncertainty seems to define how Jamaica’s tourism sector will do this year, but there are a few bright spots — namely, increase in airlift from new markets and the possible start of major infrastructure as early as this year.
A notable change in Jamaica’s export economy since Independence has been the development of non-traditional exports. These include flowers and ornamental plants, specialised tropical fruits, art and crafts. New growth industries include garment manufacturing, particularly as a result of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, data processing, music and entertainment.
Jamaica is also poised to benefit from the Health Tourism Industry, a growing market in the country. The sector has been quoted as a US $35 B/yr industry. Such capacity makes health tourism appear to be a viable income-generating option, which, if pursued, could bring vast sums into the country’s coffers.
The country has numerous world renowned, natural tourist attractions and more than one million tourists visit every year. Tourism continues to contribute to the national income and developing infrastructure. It is therefore vital that the continued development of the tourism industry be of top priority, in creating the world’s premier tourist destination. This vision is born of the recognition of the ever-changing environment facing world tourism today. At the core of this concept is a coherent, comprehensive partnership between the public and private sectors as well as the Jamaican people, to ensure benefits for all.
By: Norvan Martin