BY BALFORD HENRY—
“This is a unique opportunity to build a more responsible and committed tourism sector that can capitalize its immense potential in terms of economic prosperity, social inclusion, peace and understanding, cultural and environmental preservation,” suggested UNWTO Secretary-General Taleb Rifai.
Jamaica’s minister of tourism Edmund Bartlett, who also chairs the Board of Affiliate Members of the UNWTO, believes that the conference being held here could be seen as a show of appreciation for the initiatives being taken by the Government to increase the performance of Jamaica’s tourism industry through sustainable methods.
Bartlett pointed out that the UNWTO focuses on the global governance in tourism covering 150 UN member states which have tourism industries.
He told the Observer that he could not comment on the staging of the event prior to the official announcement expected on January 19 in Madrid, Spain.
However, the UNWTO’s website has already listed the conference for Montego Bay in November, among its upcoming events.
Bartlett, though, admitted that it would be the first time that the UNWTO would be staging such a major tourism conference in the western hemisphere.
“I will be in Madrid from January 14 when the King of Spain (King Felipe VI) will officially declare the International Year for Sustainable Tourism officially started,” he said.
The Observer has learnt that on January 19 Bartlett will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for Jamaica to host the conference.
“That would be the first time that a world conference on tourism would be held in the Caribbean, and in the Americas as a matter of fact. We have had general assemblies, but never a world conference,” he commented.
Bartlett recently ended the first nine months of his second term as Jamaica’s tourism minister. He has targeted an ultimate goal of double-digit growth in annual visitor arrivals.
The work of his ministry resulted in a record-breaking 61,000 stopovers in one week (December 22-28) last year, compared to 52,000 the previous year, and gross earnings of some US$2.3 billion.
He said that starting this year, he is looking to have Jamaica increase visitor arrivals to five million per year, moving earnings to US$5 billion per annum, by 2021.
“On assuming office, we were involved in painstakingly crafting this growth strategy,” he told the
Observer. He has already added five new tourism sub-sectors to the country’s offerings, as the ministry ramps up efforts to promote Jamaica as an ideal tourist destination.
These new linkages networks are sports and entertainment, shopping, knowledge, health and wellness, and gastronomy.
They are linked to five growth pillars – tapping into new markets, developing new products, promoting investment, building new partnerships and human capital renewal.
They are all headed by prominent Jamaicans, including Dr Henry Lowe in health and wellness; Nicola Madden-Greig, gastronomy; David Butler, knowledge; Kamal Bankay, sports and entertainment; and Anup Chandiram, shopping.
“We are taking decisive steps to give the visitors more things to do when they come to our island… and we can only do this by diversifying our product offerings,” Bartlett said.
He has appointed Sandals Resorts International Deputy Chairman and CEO Adam Stewart as chair of the Tourism Linkages Council, and Josef Forstmayr, managing director of Round Hill Hotel and Suites, to chair the Tourism Competitiveness Committee.
Bartlett said that Jamaica’s economy will remain largely dependent on tourism, and therefore much more has to be done to ensure growth.
“For the industry to be sustainable, it has to be an all-year-round economic activity,” he said.