The Ministry of Tourism and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) have signed a US$15 million contract for the establishment of a community-based tourism policy.
The policy, which is being implemented under the Rural Economic Development Initiative (REDI) project, is funded by the World Bank and the Government of Jamaica through a US$15 million loan being invested over six years.
According to Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, the objective of the Community-based Tourism Policy is to develop a framework aimed at enhancing the policy and institutional capacity, to develop community-based tourism as a sustainable growth sector in Jamaica.
"It will address factors which are critical to the sustainability and growth of the sector, and which underpin successful community-based tourism enterprises," he remarked, during the signing ceremony at the Ministry, New Kingston, on Tuesday (January 4).
Mr. Bartlett said the goal is for tourism to be the vehicle through which citizens can use their resources to transform their communities and enhance their livelihoods. The project also aims to use tourism as an empowerment tool and to assist in poverty alleviation.
"Gender equality and the empowerment of women are promoted, and Jamaica's delicate natural and cultural heritage is promoted and protected," he said.
The Minister said the project will also allow Jamaica to diversify its product offering, to ensure that the tourism product portfolio remains "relevant, refreshed and meaningful" in its contribution to the sustainability of the industry.
"Developing community-based tourism is a critical factor in delivering on this authentic experience, by allowing local people to use their talents and resources to share the vast wealth of the cultural and natural heritage we possess," he said.
Permanent Secretary in the Ministry, Jennifer Griffith, said the tourism industry continues to be a driving force in the country's economy and is its primary foreign exchange earner.
"However there is still considerable potential. There is still room for growth in the tourism sector, of course, through diversification of our product and enhancing what we have to offer to our visitors," she said.
She also noted that this is where community-based tourism comes in, as it provides a vital platform for spurring rural development and, by so doing, contribute to economic empowerment of rural citizens.
"This is of great significance in light of (our) goal, as a country, to achieve development nation status, which is outlined in Jamaica's Vision 2030 Plan," the Permanent Secretary noted. "It is envisioned that this policy framework will create an environment that seeks to maximise the economic returns for tourism to an increasing proportion of our rural population."
Mrs. Griffith said this is also one of the main pillars of the master plan for sustainable tourism development.
Managing Director of JSIF, Scarlette Gillings, stated that JSIF will assist the Ministry, by providing $8.6 million for the development of a community based tourism policy. She said part of the aim is that Jamaica's delicate, natural and cultural heritage will be promoted and protected.
"The work will be carried out by an international consultant, and will incorporate broad based stakeholders in input, through islandwide consultations," she informed.
Mrs. Gillings also noted that parliamentary approval will be sought, to convert the policy into law.