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Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, says tourism in the rural areas of the country will provide key opportunities for a full recovery of the local industry from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Addressing a church service at Trumpet Call Ministries International in Montego Bay, St. James, on Sunday (September 27) to mark the start of Tourism Awareness Week, the Minister noted that rural communities provide the “authentic, unique experiences and local lifestyle” that enriches the visitor experience.

He said that the Ministry and its agencies are committed to working within rural areas to strengthen their resilience, create jobs and build opportunities that will reverse the economic setback caused by the ongoing pandemic.

“As we reimagined our tourism product in these uncertain times, the focus on rural development seems quite timely,” said Mr. Bartlett.

He pointed out that tourism agencies have already begun working across several rural parts of the country to improve the tourism brand.

“This is evident in the work of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) linkage network, which is widening the pool of persons benefiting from tourism by strengthening the relationship with other sectors of the economy,” Mr. Bartlett said.

“One of its greatest success is the annual Blue Mountain Coffee Festival, which is greatly benefiting coffee farmers and communities in the hills of rural St. Andrew. Its Agri Linkages Exchange (ALEX) platform is facilitating the purchase of local fresh agricultural produce by our hospitality sector,” he added.

Mr. Bartlett said that the Ministry will be looking to uncover untapped tourism potential in St. Thomas and other areas of the south coast, by exploring new developments and destinations.

“At the same time, we will continue to build out a framework of support that will include product development, training, infrastructural improvement and access to finance for rural communities,” he outlined.

This year’s Tourism Awareness Week, from September 27 to October 3, is being observed under the theme ‘Tourism and Rural Development’.

The observance aims to raise awareness of the tourism sector’s significant contributions to the island’s growth and development.

The week’s activities include a daily advertorial highlighting rural development initiatives of the Ministry and its agencies, virtual expo, virtual webinar, social media competitions and a youth photography competition.

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