JIS News

Now that Jamaica has been granted approved destination status by the Chinese Government, the tourism sector is poised to benefit from the expected increase in Chinese visitors.
This increase should materialize by year end, and Minister of Tourism, Aloun Ndombet-Assamba tells JIS News that the Ministry is already putting measures in place to accommodate them.
She explains that it is generally difficult for an individual Chinese to travel out of China as a tourist. In fact, the tourism industry in China is based on package tours that are prepared by that country’s designated travel agencies for travel to countries which the China National Tourism Administration approves, she explains.
But what does it mean for Jamaica’s tourism industry, now that approved destination status has been granted? Minister Assamba explains that Jamaica, as a country, has been approved by the Chinese government for outbound group travel by Chinese nationals. “Essentially, what it means is not for individual persons to say I am going to Jamaica. They have to travel in groups, they have to have their package organized by an approved travel agent in China to come to Jamaica,” she adds.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Tourism, approximately 4,000 Chinese have visited Jamaica since 1998. This represents an annual average arrival of approximately 550 visitors.
“I want to make the point that Chinese tourists are long stay visitors. In 2003, for example, the average length of stay for the Chinese visitor was 22 nights, and based on preliminary figures for 2004, the average length of stay was 20 nights,” Minister Assamba informs JIS News.
Although the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) still has a lot of work to do in marketing the country in China, there is no question that Jamaica has already sold itself through reggae music and Bob Marley. Minister Assamba gave an account of a visit to China 20 years ago, when the Chinese only had to hear the word Jamaica and they immediately made reference to Bob Marley.
“Musicians like Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff and those of our reggae ambassadors who have taken the music abroad, they have done a lot in selling a positive image of Jamaica and people want to come here,” the Minister notes.
Mrs. Assamba says the good thing about the tourism industry, is that it does not stand alone. “There are many other industries that feed into the tourism sector – craft, agriculture, entertainment and manufacturing – so that when more tourists come to Jamaica, all of these sectors will benefit,” she says.
She made special mention of the craft sector, adding that the Ministry is working through the Jamaica Business Development Centre to ensure that the quality of local produced craft was of good quality.
“We want to make sure that every single tourist will take back a piece of Jamaican craft with them. We understand that we might not be able to produce these in mass numbers but that is not what we are aiming for. We are aiming for exquisite pieces of quality and we think we will be able to satisfy that market,” Minister Assamba says.
Before Jamaica can begin to benefit from the increase in visitors from China, there are a few challenges, which will have to be dealt with. Chief among them is the distance between Jamaica and China. While this will not act as a deterrent for the industry, Minister Assamba says it is something that will have to be worked out soon.
Given the distance between both countries, the Chinese tourist will have to overnight in another country before arriving in Jamaica. According to Minister Assamba, the issue of getting visa for that particular country may be a challenge.
Getting a visa to visit Jamaica, on the other hand will be quite easy, as she says the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has recently announced that a Jamaican embassy is to be established in Beijing, China.
“The situation with regard to visas to come to Jamaica will be satisfied. However, it is very clear that the Chinese will have to overnight in another country. It could be some place in Europe, United States or Canada. We have been talking about Canada,” Minister Assamba points out.
There will also be no direct cruise ships coming from China, hence the Chinese tourist will have to travel to another country to have access to a cruise ship tour. “In the cruise industry there are defined routes. I am not aware of any cruise ship that comes directly from China, but that won’t stop the Chinese from getting a cruise which will stop in Jamaica from out of the US, which is where most of them travel from,” she says.
In anticipation of the increased numbers, the tourism sector is expected to make the necessary adjustments to accommodate the Asian visitors, whose requirements will be different from their western counterparts.
“They have different dietary requirements and there is certainly a difference in language. Increasingly, more Chinese are speaking English but it would be very good if we could have our people learning Chinese,” she says.
During the recent visit of the Vice President of the People’s Republic of China, Zeng Qinghong, he announced that his government was open to discussions toward the establishment of a centre for Caribbean language, culture, science and technology in China.
The Vice President was responding to a proposal made by the Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies (UWI), Professor E. Nigel Harris, for the establishment of a Chinese centre for language, culture, science and technology at the UWI and a similar centre for Caribbean studies in China.
According to Minister Assamba, Jamaica needs to encourage more people to begin to learn and have a working knowledge of the Chinese language in order to host the visitors.
Even with the challenges, Minister Assamba is optimistic that Jamaica will be able to attract its fair share of the Chinese tourism market.
Gu Zhaoxi, Vice Chairman of China National Tourism Administration, during his address at the recently held China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Co-operation Forum in Kingston, pointed out that in terms of outbound tourism, China has become a fast-growing tourist generating market in the world.
He noted that in 1997, the outbound group travel of the Chinese citizens was officially started, with a total number of 5.32 million persons. In 2002, the outbound travel of Chinese tourists reached 16.6 million. In 2003, despite the impact of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the outbound travel of Chinese citizens reached 20.22 million, surpassing Japan, the biggest outbound tourist generating country in Asia. The outbound travel of Chinese citizens in 2004 reached 28 million.
Even though Jamaica will have to compete with the 61 non-Caribbean countries, which have since been granted approved destination status, Minister Assamba says the potential for Jamaica is great. She says China has more people than any other country in the world, with an expected 100 million outbound tourists to travel by 2020. “So if Jamaica gets even .01 per cent we will still get a good portion,” she said.
In the interim, Minister Assamba says a number of familiarization tours will be conducted to bring journalists and travel agents to get a first hand view of the island, so they can better sell the product.
Collaboration with the 10 other Caribbean islands, which have also been awarded approved destination status, is something the Ministry of Tourism will be working towards, says Minister Assamba. “This is something we will have to do because if a Chinese visitor is coming to Jamaica, then chances are they would want to see another island,” she adds.
Minister Assamba says she is delighted that Jamaica has been given approved destination status. “This is something we have been negotiating for a while, and we are very pleased that working together we have been able, through my Ministry, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs along with the Chinese Ambassador to Jamaica Zhao Zhenyu , to prepare for this. We have worked together in a partnership which has been successful and we now need to take it to the next stage,” she says.

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