Q: The buzzword for 2019 is ‘sustainability’. What are you doing to make tourism meet the sustainability criteria in Jamaica in terms of the local economy, local artisans and also the environment?
A: We have a three-point strategy for building sustainability. The first is human capital: to train and to develop the capacity of the people to deliver the best-quality service, but also to create new experiences and to innovate, to be adaptive and to be nimble in responding to the changing demographics of the market.
The second is financial support to convert the ideas people have – the material goods and services that the consumers who are the tourists will purchase. We want to change the consumption patterns in favour of more indigenous products. We recognise the reasons of travel: 88% of the world travels for food and food experiences, so we are building a whole range of gastronomic experiences. And we are using technology to facilitate access and connectivity. We are creating an app that we call Alex, which will connect the small farmers with hotels and the small traders with the platforms that we have. Everyone we will be given an equal opportunity to have access to the markets.
But the cost of money, as I indicated, is critical to enabling this, particularly [for] SMEs – 80% of global tourism is driven by SMEs. But the anomalies are that only 20% of the returns from tourism go to this 80%. Part of what we are trying to do is to reverse that and, if not reverse, certainly to create a better balance. In that way the [economic] impact of tourism will be felt more by the small people – the ordinary people in the community – which is what the objective is.
The third strategy is marketing. To provide global market accessibility based on a common platform, we have just built a very powerful website that is an enormous platform that will allow for content from our space to be showcased to the rest of the world. Already we are seeing results, in that some of our small players are on the website and getting business from all over the world, even before they come to Jamaica.
What we are talking about is economic sustainability and social sustainability, both building communities and aligning communities with tourism. In my recent conversations with investors, we have spoken about how we can create a circular economy.
Q: Tell us more about Jamaica’s new Tourism Innovation Town.
A: The Tourism Innovation Town is where the economy that tourism provides is sustained by the people who live within the area where the tourism plant is located. This also creates the opportunity for agriculture and manufactured goods from across the community to be utilised by the hotel. Then the waste from the hotels comes back across the community to create energy. So that’s the circular economy, so that the community feeds into the hotel and the hotel feeds back.
Q: Could you tell us about the new agri-parks and the state of agriculture in Jamaica?
A: Agriculture has had an enormous renaissance. The impact of technology on agriculture is huge. Today’s agriculture [is such that] you can now produce anything, anywhere. So agriculture is taking a new lease of life in Jamaica, and with tourism growing as it is, and the demand for goods – for food in particular – so strong, we are going to see a stronger impact from agriculture on tourism activities in Jamaica.
Q: Do you think that will make agriculture more attractive?
A: Absolutely, because you will be able to earn. And with more certainty and because your market is local, you have less risk involved. The other thing about this local market is that it is an ever-increasing demand, because as visitor numbers grow, there’s the demand. Also, this concerns two elements of the markets. There is the domestic market – the population you have to feed 24/7 – then there are the visitors who are now trending two to one to the local population – and when that happens it’s going to require expansion in every regard. More factory space for processing the agriculture, more technology to be applied to give larger yields per acre.