Prisma Reports (PR): The Government is making great efforts to enhance the ease of doing business and to improve Jamaica’s investment climate, which already showed an improvement in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Kamina Johnson Smith told us “the consumer and business confidence is as high as never before.” You had a key role in the development of the ‘Shovel-Ready’ Project Initiative to streamline and expedite the process of investment in Jamaica. How would you describe today’s investment and business environment?
Hon. Edmund Bartlett (EB): I have always been driven by the saying that “business goes where it is invited and stays where it is appreciated.” In that context, we are doing everything in our power to ensure that this happens. We are very bullish about inviting investments and we are careful to ensure that they are welcome. As an ex-colonial country, we have inherited some structural deficiencies that we are trying to overcome and we are doing this faster than many would have anticipated. The improvement in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index is a good indication that we are moving towards creating the best environment for business to feel appreciated in Jamaica.
PR: How smooth is the dialogue between the different stakeholders in the tourism sector?
EB: The stakeholders are now experiencing an exciting period where we have moved from a time of expecting high incentivisation to a period where we are far more competitive and where the fundamentals of the economy are now in the right place – offering better opportunities for easier investment. Where there is ease of investment, the need for high incentivisation is unnecessary.
We have been seeing unprecedented investment in tourism over the last 10 years. In the last three years – we have received roughly USD 1 billion. We are expecting some 15-20,000 new rooms over the next 5 to 10 years. These will be accentuated by new attractions that are coming online such as new shopping concessions, new health and wellness facilities for medical tourism and investment in infrastructure for medical tourism, and building more sports facilities for sports tourism. We are looking to drive knowledge-focused tourism in an effort to make Jamaica a center for intellectual discourse, think tank activities, conferences and key meetings. We want to be a hub for literary activity, weekend retreats where scholars, thinkers and writers can come and bring together their creative energies.
PR: Speaking about a knowledge-based society, the tourism sector is a sector that traditionally employs youth and many women too. You are a champion for education and human skills development. How are you working to develop Jamaica’s human capital?
EB: We have created a human resource development strategy for tourism. This begins with training at the high school level. There is a new certification program for highschool students graduating in hospitality. This allows them to leave school and go straight into the industry. The second strand to the plan is the Team Jamaica Training Programme, which certifies people at a basic level to enable basic appreciation and skills necessary for the hospitality industry.
Then you have the Heart Foundation of Jamaica. This is the Government training institution – not just for hospitality but also other sectors. With regards to our sector in particular, they help us run our training programmes based around housekeeping, wellbeing and more. Then we have the tertiary sector, which has a major role to play, the Community Colleges with hospitality programmes, the universities with degree programmes related to the sector.
Finally, in September this year, we intend to launch the Jamaica Center of Tourism Innovation. This will be a transition institution that will accredit professionals in the industry. What we are creating here is a professional pathway for workers in the industry. You come to the centre for professional accreditation regardless of whether or not you have a university degree or haven’t even been to high school. This accreditation will be internationally recognised, allowing for transit from Jamaica to any other tourism destination. Further to this, we are connected to a number of special institutions on a global level in the areas of gastronomy, health and wellbeing and hospitality in general. These are the steps we are taking to strengthen human capital within the industry to enable a more competent, efficient and accomplished team to provide the services and experience that the visitor will pay for.
PR: You have mentioned gastronomy, health and wellbeing and sports tourism. How important is this tourism over diversification for Jamaica?
EB: Very important. People travel to fulfil their passions. What are these passions? Well - all the areas we have discussed and more. Therefore, our mission is to build our products around these fashionable points to remain relevant and up to date. Then you use technology and other enhancements to add value to the product. To make the visit easier, to provide greater access, to make the experience seamless. Diversification attracts a broader demographic. It widens the range of clients that will come to a destination. Do not forget, tourism is not just about people travelling but also about people spending. By diversifying the product, you can increase the spending and that is when the wealth flows and stays in the sector.
PR: You made significant contributions to tourism globally, in both the public and private sectors, promoting further collaboration with key players in tourism in driving the expansion of public private partnerships (PPPS), essential components of the sustainable development of the industry. What PPP opportunities would you like to convey to Foreign Policy’s high profile audience?
EB: To put this in a theoretical frame, PPPs are central to the sustainable growth of tourism globally. Governments have a role in terms of creating an enabling environment by having legislative, regulatory and policy frameworks that define the parameters in which people can operate. The private sector has a role to play by creating the products that are required to enable the experiences we are talking about. This is because tourism is a series of moving parts that must be combined seamlessly for people to want to buy into it. That whole process of creating the experience sees the coming together of many key entities and people. We feel that the Government’s job is to facilitate the seamless conversion of these moving parts. The moving parts are the private sector and we are keen to encourage them. We need PPPs for airport expansion, cruise liner ports, hotels and lifestyle developments, for sports developments, such as mega sports facilities. We need them for spas and medical tourism.
PR: The tourism sector is also a sector that touches many other ones. How are you strengthening the linkages between tourism and other industries such as agriculture, manufacturing or entertainment?
EB: We have developed five pillars for growth to enable us to achieve the following outcomes: five million visitors within the next five years; to earn USD 5 billion for the economy; 5% growth over the period; 125,000 people directly employed; to build 15,000 new rooms. We have also built five networks to underpin the five pillars of growth. These networks relate to the experiential values that the tourist strives for.
One – gastronomy: Some 80% of tourism is motivated by food. We undertook a study to get a sense of the key ideas that defined Jamaica to the world. The first was food. As a result, we have been developing gastronomy trails. Yesterday (27th March) we launched the Blue Mountain Culinary Trail for example. The idea is to lead visitors through the various eateries and to show visitors the juxtapositions of Jamaican cuisine with nature, organic foods and sustainable practices.
Two – shopping: It is the second reason for travel. In particular, if we look at new emerging markets in Southeast Asia. China, for example, is focused on shopping. China is the largest outbound tourism market in the world today. Some 140 million Chinese people travel abroad. This is expected to grow to 175 million visitors by 2030. We want them to come here and in order to attract them, we need to build the facilities to cater to them.
Three – culture: This covers music, entertainment and sports. Jamaica has a rich heritage in these areas but we need to build the infrastructure and create the facilities to enable a wider appreciation and involvement in these areas.
Four – health and wellness: Jamaica has an incredibly rich natural bio-diversity. We have the potential for a nutraceutical industry that will exceed any other country in the region. Of course, we need to discuss the emergence of cannabis as a nutraceutical product. It has incredible medical properties related to cancer and glaucoma treatments. This will be an interesting new area that we can explore to create a cannabis infused experience, one which does not encourage recreational use.
Finally – Knowledge: We believe Jamaica can become the Davos of knowledge-based tourism. The conference we are holding in November – UNWTO, Government of Jamaica and World Bank Conference on Partnerships for Jobs & Inclusive Growth through Sustainable Tourism - is a critical platform to launch Jamaica as a global centre for tourism celebrations, as well as for ideas and best practices.
PR: You also brought an innovative thinking to the region, as you see other Caribbean and Latin American tourist destinations, not as Jamaica’s competitors, but as partners and worked on a special MoU between nations in the region. Can you elaborate on these regional integration plans?
EB: First of all, the Caribbean is the most tourism dependent region on Earth. 1 in 4 of all jobs in the region are directly or indirectly connected to tourism. More than 50% of the foreign exchange generated in the region comes directly from tourism. In terms of export value, tourism services account for more than 50% of the services that we export.
We see tourism not just as the lifeblood of the region, but we also see its resilience and the fact that we are an archipelago of islands. The blue economy means a lot to us, and tourism is a very central part of that blue economy. We believe that our future relies on a strong and viable tourism sector. We also have a special characteristic that is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic arrangement to the region. This mosaic is spread across all the islands, with each island providing its own, unique experiences.
However, we are an island region that has a capacity issue. We are small and do not have the critical mass that would drive, on an individual island basis, the kind of air-connectivity and market impact that we want across the emerging markets worldwide. Therefore, we see an economic logic to collaboration, as opposed to competition. We believe that if we could market the Caribbean as a single destination, one that would offer a value proposition that states “buy one and get all” – it would be a game changer. We can market together, we can negotiate airlift arrangements with the large airlines reaching these emerging markets in Asia, Africa, South America and Eastern Europe. The opportunity here is to offer multi-drop or multi-stop packages for a single route. This is exciting. An airline could fly to Cuba, then head to Jamaica, then to the Dominican Republic – picking up and dropping off new passengers on the way – before heading back along that route. This is a far more exciting arrangement than currently exists. It will boost yields for the airlines and enable the security of route arrangements. Having said all of that, there is the need for harmonisation of certain policies to enable access. For airspace regulations, seamless visa entry and border processes, there is a need to look at the various regional governmental policies and to try and create a local “Schengen” visa arrangement. This architecture is the way forward for sustainable tourism development in the region. As tourism is embraced by more and more countries as a core part of their economies and growth strategies, the competitiveness of the Caribbean is going to be under stress. Therefore, we have to be innovative and create new business models, new experiences that will win over our visitors.
PR: You have given over thirty-five years of service to Jamaica, working both in the Senate and in the House of Representatives and as Minister. What is the ultimate goal you would like to achieve before leaving office?
EB: The goal that would excite me the most is to have a transformation of the tourism industry into a true catalyst for growth and development in the economy. To do this, I believe, we need to change the consumption and production patterns in the industry. We need to recognise that the strength of the industry and its value to the people is going to come from the increased capacity on the part of the people to absorb the demand that tourism brings. In my term, I have worked to build the absorptive capacity of the economy, so that the real players of tourism – the little people or small and medium tourism enterprises – will be empowered to deliver on the promise of the sector. If, at the end of the day, the human resources strategies we are employing work; if the credit facilities for the SMEs we have put in place with the commercial banks materialise; if the investments in new rooms and accommodation and new experiences happen in the way that we anticipate – then we will have a level of retention of the tourism dollar in the economy that will make for continued growth. Then that would be the crowning achievement of my ministry.
Others have done it – the Dominican Republic has done it and is the fastest growing economy in the region because of tourism. Cuba is redefining its economy around tourism. Everything you hear about Cuba is about the new ports, new airlines, improvements in health tourism, medical technology and research. It is about services. Tourism and related services are redefining the future of the Caribbean. That said, you have to create the ability of the people to supply the consumption side of the sector. The production side is all about creating the demand and bringing tourists in. For this you have to invest in hotels, airlines, airports, ships, cruise ports – the hard infrastructure. You also need to promote through marketing, advertising, tour operators – this all comes under the remit of production. You need this to attract the first tourists. Once they have arrived the consumption begins. Now you need someone to transfer them to the airport. You need to feed them. Build the shopping experience. The attractions and parks to entertain them. You will need to boost the capacity to feed them – the food stores and the restaurants. The tourists will pay for it all – and it is provided by the local people. If we can make those consumption patterns truly authentic and local – then the dollar will stay here. This is critical as the acquisition cost of bringing the tourists in has to be taken from that dollar. What is left after that? It is what is going to be shared between the country and the investor. If the country or its people are the investors – then great, but very few places have local investors able to afford it. This is because the costs of these investments are extremely high: billions for airports and ports, millions for hotels. All of these costs are part of the overall acquisition costs. The whole industry is about the people. If you empower your people, then they will be able to extract the wealth that tourism brings. Every time a plane lands, or a cruise ship docks – they bring wealth. It is the ability to extract that wealth which will determine whether or not you can have economic prosperity. Otherwise the wealth goes back with the planes and ships on their departures. It will go to other destinations. If we can create that capacity in Jamaica to absorb that wealth then this ministry has been a success.