Q: How can investors improve Jamaica’s vulnerability to natural disasters?
A: The Caribbean is an archipelago of [thousands] of islands. We shouldn’t be stigmatising the entire Caribbean as a ‘disaster area’, when in fact it might be just one state or island that has been affected. In the case of the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian did extensive damage [last summer], it was just two of 23 islands. The rest were intact. The Bahamas remained open for business. The ports were open, the airport was open, and so on. But when you watch the news from the established media, you get the sense that there’s just widespread devastation. Visiting the Bahamas is the surest way of supporting recovery.
Jamaica has established the Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre at the University of the West Indies, to help improve perceptions of risk and provide more accurate messaging that properly conveys [facts], while communicating how the rest of the world can respond. It’s a global centre, a repository of information on best practices against weather disruption; tracking them, providing information and guidance to countries about what to expect, anticipate, mitigate, manage and recover. And we’re excited about now setting up satellite centres all across the world, five of which will be completed by 2020. We want to set up one in Johannesburg, one in Abuja, one in Morocco.
Q: Where would you like to see more foreign investment in tourism?
A: The investment in tourism in the Caribbean has mostly been around the coastal areas. I think that the experiential tourism, which is now the driver of the new markets, requires investment in lots of cultural products and assets within the country. For example in gastronomy, building those food experiences, and enabling the highest quality presentation of food, and an infrastructure that will enable that presentation happen.
The second area that’s strong for investment is in health and wellness. It’s now the older people who are travelling more and who have more money to spend. And so we now have to build products for this aged traveller; silver tourism, as we call it. We have rich biodiversity in Jamaica, and a big cannabidiol market. Huge investment in these areas can bring enormous wealth to the communities in a safe and acceptable way. Not strictly speaking on the recreational cannabis side, but more in terms of the medical application. Eighty species of plants that have medicinal value are endemic to Jamaica. We also have two of the most potent hot springs in the Caribbean, arguably on our side of the world, with very high radiation levels.
Lastly, I think that the whole business of technology and investment in smart applications is another of the trends that the investment requirements for tourism is following. And I think in the case of in Jamaica, these are three big areas that we’re focusing on.
Q: What are the latest tourism figures?
A: In 2016 we said we wanted to achieve 5 million visitors and earn $5bn in five years, and grow at a rate of 5%. Today, we’re 4.5 million visitors, we’re just on the edge of $4bn in earnings, and we’re growing at a rate of 7%. But with more people we need more products. So that’s why we’re calling for investment in for health and wellness, in entertainment and sports, and shopping and gastronomy.
The majority of our tourists are actually aged between 35 and 50. We have to build products to satisfy all demographics. We’ve made some fiscal arrangements to facilitate investment in shopping. The area of knowledge tourism is another opportunity. You could bring more visitors to learn English, as we’re a hub for that in Latin America.
Q: What countries are you targeting for tourism?
A: Developing Chinese and Indian tourism is another huge area of interest for us. Those countries are going to dominate the future travel market, so we need to build products in relation to them, recognising their cultural nuances and passions.
Currently, 80% of our visitors come from the US and Canada. Europe represents just about 10% or 15%. So we need more activity out of Asia, which requires us to adjust some geopolitical arrangements.