Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, says agriculture and manufacturing will be critical to the recovery of the tourism industry in Jamaica and the wider Caribbean, from the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
He said the impact of COVID-19 has been “huge”, noting that Jamaica lost approximately US$2.5 billion in earnings and just over 100,000 jobs since the pandemic’s onset.
He was speaking during the closing session of the 16th Jamaica Stock Exchange (JSE) Regional Investments and Capital Markets Conference at The Jamaica Pegasus hotel in New Kingston, on January 28, on the theme ‘Connecting Tourism and Agriculture: Mitigating the Impact of these Key Regional Industries’.
“The essence of our focus now has to be about resetting tourism… and agriculture and manufacturing, in my mind, are the two central pillars on which that must be done,” the Minister said.
Mr. Bartlett said based on the industry’s 2019 earnings locally, regionally and globally, “it is very clear that tourism is a huge driver of foreign exchange”.
He noted that Jamaica’s industry earned US$3.7 billion from 4.3 million visitors to the island, and employed 180,000 workers directly and indirectly during the period, while pointing out that the sector contributed 10 per cent to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP).
Mr. Bartlett said the Caribbean welcomed close to 30 million visitors, earned just over US$40 billion and employed 1.2 million workers, noting that the earnings represented more than 50 per cent of the foreign exchange generated.
He said the international industry saw 1.2 billion persons travelling, recorded US$1.5 trillion in overall expenditure that represented 35 per cent of trade in services, and employed 432 million people, to account for seven per cent of global GDP.
“The implication of all of that, therefore, is that tourism has become a very central part of the global economy and is a huge driver of jobs and economic well-being,” the Minister added.
He pointed out, however, that by virtue of the fallout, “tourism is highly vulnerable to disruptions” as evidenced by global losses, to date, of US$1.3 trillion and 100 million jobs.
“It is very clear that tourism is a huge driver of foreign exchange, but a huge user of foreign exchange. If we are not careful, the industry can become a net user of foreign exchange rather than a net provider,” the Minister further stated.
Mr. Bartlett attributed this to the high incidence of imports that, he said, characterises the industry’s consumption patterns.
He pointed out that 42 per cent of expenditure by visitors to Jamaica in 2019, totalling just over US$2 billion, was on food, while noting that imports accounted for a significant percentage of the provisions.
Mr. Bartlett said a recent demand study for local agricultural produce revealed a $39.6 billion (approximately US$2.5 million) demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, noting that “of that, we are only able to supply 20 per cent… so there’s a huge gap”.
Coupled with this, he informed, is a great demand for seafood, meat and poultry, dairy products, preserves, canned products, and confectionaries “that are consumed in large quantities in our hotels”.
Against this background, he said the industry reset must focus on changing these patterns, adding that “we have to look at how we source supplies to enable the demand that tourism brings to be met”.
“So, what is needed is for us to look at a major plan to boost agricultural supplies in Jamaica and within the Caribbean. One of the things we could look at is where do we have comparative advantage in the production of what type of supply, to see how we can utilise these specialties within the islands to create the sufficiency of supply that is required, or a significant portion of what is required,” the Minister outlined.
He said that in so doing “more jobs can be created and more of the dollar can be retained”.
Additionally, Mr. Bartlett said boosting the manufacturing sector’s inputs in tourism can potentially yield a similar outcome.
“COVID-19 has given us the opportunity to stop, think, listen, look, and reset and pivot tourism. We must not waste this opportunity. Let us reposition tourism as a true driver of the economy,” he added.