Business Travel

Resilience will Define Jamaica’s Tourism Recovery

The COVID-19 global pandemic has effectively halted the international travel industry with travel bans, cruise lines, and aircrafts grounded, hotels, attractions, and restaurants vacant. Governments everywhere are implementing emergency measures to stimulate their economies during this unprecedented pause, while also working to keep citizens safe. The economies and organizations that will lead the way out of this economic recession, are those that build resilience into their policies and invest in the skills of their workforce so that they are prepared to deliver elevated experiences and products when the threat of the COVID-19 crisis subsides and travel resumes. This is imperative for tourism everywhere.

The mandate for resilience is much bigger than Jamaica and indeed the Caribbean, which continues to be one of the most tourism-dependent regions in the world. Rebuilding a robust international tourism system will be collaborative by necessity because the travel industry will be forever changed.

Fortunately, tourism has the ability to quickly rebound from major disruptions. Accounting for 11 percent of the world’s GDP, tourism creates more than 320 million jobs for workers serving 1.4 billion travelers annually. The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, and over 4.3 million people travel each year to Jamaica alone.

Before the threat of COVID-19, Jamaica’s tourism sector was confidently entering into its tenth consecutive year of growth. Following a record-breaking year in 2019, tourism receipts for January and February indicated that the sector was growing at a rate of 5.2% in 2020. Today the tourist industry is facing a new paradigm, filled with uncertainty and economic challenge.

As an island nation located in the Caribbean, a region of the world that regularly faces potential disruptions, Jamaica’s tourism has always operated with an intense focus on identifying and implementing resilience strategies. To formalize this practice and extend our expertise to others in the region and around the globe, we established the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) in 2019 at the University of the West Indies Regional Headquarters. GTRCMC convenes travel experts from around the world to study and address urgent threats facing the industry including climate change, pandemics, cyber-crimes, natural disasters, and other disruptions. The Centre is currently working with a variety of nations and leading organizations to mount an international effort that sets standards and processes for preventing or addressing any potential challenge to our mobility and enjoyment of the world’s destinations.

A resource for disaster preparedness and recovery efforts to destinations globally, the Centre led the call for a Global Tourism Resilience Fund at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which would improve the capacity of tourism destinations to respond, manage, recover and grow after disruptions. This fund will benefit vulnerable destinations, like many of our Caribbean neighbors, that have insufficient financial capacity to prepare for and recover quickly from disruptions.

The GTRCMC would have hosted the first-ever United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) Summit on Innovation in Montego Bay this May. While COVID-19 has scuttled the in-person event, the Center will be convening an online UNWTO summit to address the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the travel industry and provide actionable recovery guidance to destinations around the globe.

Additionally, GTRCMC’s leadership is assisting Jamaica as it navigates the evolving COVID-19 pandemic. The study of hypothetical and historical disruption scenarios and models for recovery is informing the establishment of standards and priorities on how to allocate resources and utilize talents to enable action. In Jamaica’s first wave of recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, we are making a major investment in our human capital and advancing goals to increase the number of tourism workers who obtain internationally recognized certification. An intensive free online training and certification program is underway through partnerships with highly respected American trade associations the National Restaurant Association (NRA) and the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute (AHLEI), as well as Jamaica’s Human Employment and Resource Training-National Service Training Agency (HEART-NSTA Trust). Thousands of travel and tourism workers are expected to participate in the online training program that reinforces Jamaica’s Human Capital Development goals and advances strategies from the GTRCMC designed to deliver a higher level of professionalism, safety and service to the industry.

While the world waits out this crisis, Jamaica is hard at work displaying its resilience and optimism and helping the world reconnect and heal from the traumatic events we are all experiencing. We look forward to welcoming visitors back to the island, and with vigilance and planning, we are building on our global reputation for world-class tourism.

Written by Edmund C. Bartlett. Have you read?

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Edmund C. Bartlett
Edmund C. Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism. Recognized for his wide-ranging expertise and accomplishments in the political arena, Honourable Edmund Bartlett has given over thirty-five years of service to Jamaica, working in both chambers of Jamaica’s Parliament – the Senate and House of Representatives. A graduate of the University of the West Indies, where he majored in accounting, he has worked at the senior management level in the areas of marketing and sales as well as accounting, for major multi-national companies operating in Jamaica, prior to entering elective politics. Edmund C. Bartlett is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine.