Inclusive growth: We talk to Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism about the upcoming UNWTO conference

Next week, the UNWTO conference, Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism will take place at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, with delegates from 157 countries. We spoke to the Hon. Edmund Bartlett about the conference and its impact on Jamaica in particular:

Who will be at the UNWTO conference and what will it achieve?

This year is the international year of sustainable tourism and development and within the framework of that, a number of events are being held all across the world, perhaps the most significant – in terms of the role of tourism as a driver of growth – is going to be the Global Conference on to be held in Montego Bay Jamaica on November 27 to 29.

The importance of this conference is that it brings a partnerships together of the key players in the tourism industry; for the first time financial partners such as the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank are involved as well as the Government of Jamaica and UNWTO and George Washington University and Chemonics.

This provides global support for a development strategy, along with local partners such as the Caribbean Development Bank, the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association and the Caribbean Tourism Organisation. This conference is the strongest that has ever been assembled anywhere celebrate matters related to tourism.

What key aspects of sustainability will be addressed?

The first day of the conference is going to be dedicated to the future of tourism in the Caribbean. This offers an opportunity for us to look at key issues of sustainability, including the building of resilience within the region, particularly protection against climactic and seismic events.

The ability of the region to respond and recover quickly to these seismic climactic events as well as human events is central to our ability to retain sustainability and to be a growth centre.

The conference will also address the development of the economies of the Caribbean, bearing in mind that the Caribbean is most tourism-dependent region on earth. 41% of the GDP of the region is directly related to tourism activities and 1 in 4 workers are employed in the industry.

The discussion will look at what kind of systems and institutional mechanisms we need to put in place and more so how do we access resource in order to build capacity, to predict where we can, to mitigate where we must, and recover when we have to.

In the last few weeks, three major climactic events damaged and devastated about 5% of the region including some of the smaller islands: Anguila, St Barts, St Martin, Puerto Rico and Dominica, among others. The extent of the damage done to these destinations is enormous. In Puerto Rico, electricity was not restored to 80% of the population after six weeks. The implications of that for development, employment and stability is huge.

The discussion therefore has to be centred around the capacity to respond fast and to enable recovery. First we need to have the partners of the world who are important in bringing these kind of resources together and thank goodness this conference is doing that. The World Bank will be there, the IDP will be there, CDB will be there, IFC and GIIC will be there.

The banks’ presence also encourages private sector assistance – the public sector alone cannot do it; tourism is driven heavily by the private sector, so the building out of public private partnerships is the pillar on which restoration lies.

How do we get the airlines / cruise lines / hoteliers / investors / to respond?

These entities can not only help with humanitarian aid but can provide ships as temporary housing arrangements for volunteers who have come into the region to help with the rebuild.

We should also create communication strategy that will carve a narrative to point the world not to a Caribbean that is not devastated but a Caribbean that needs help and to indicate that the best way to support the area at this time is to visit.

In areas of technical support, partnerships with NGOs and universities can assist with resilience management, and how to better reconstruct the region to combat the impact these events that take place at a moment’s notice.

The conference will also look at how to build a retention capacity to ensure that the wealth of tourism doesn’t pass through these destination but stays within in it. 80% of tourism is driven by small and medium enterprises but less than 20% of the returns of tourism go to them. There’s an asymmetry here and there has to be a discussion to create some balance.

If small and medium tourism enterprises (SMTEs) are the backbone of the industry, we have to not only encourage their sustainability but act decisively to create a flow of resources from multi-lateral financial institutions to support their growth and development.

We need to change consumption and production patterns within tourism to favour a higher level of retention. This will change the attitude of the global community toward tourism because there was a recent backlash from a number of cities that feel that tourist are taking resources from them – the notion of over-tourism is creeping in.

We need to diversify and move tourism away from traditional centres and into the other areas where experiences abound. People are there with creative ideas and innovative energy so that visitors are not seen to be an imposition.

The conference is going to conclude with a document that will be a blueprint for sustainable tourism development to inform the next generation of rules. This will bring clarity to our own five-year strategy and will give a sense of what is achievable, because when we bring all these key players together, we will create a space for dialogue that will examine all the possibilities for both job creation and inclusiveness.

Inclusiveness is a word we are very excited about, because tourism, of all the industries, has the best ability to involve everyone and to find a place for every member of the community. Tourism has the capacity to transform relationships within the global space and to build peace and harmony among all classes, races, religions and lifestyles.

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