SEATTLE, Washington — Since the country’s struggles with debt in 2013, Jamaica’s economy has experienced a remarkable turnaround. One key factor in this regard has been the country’s tourism sector. Although the country is still handling its heavy debt problem, the tourism sector shows promise in adding jobs and developing the economy. Jamaica’s tourism sector grew by 9% in 2019, which resulted in the need to more efficiently cater to the rise of tourists visiting the country. It had more than four million visitors in 2019, resulting in revenue of $3.3 billion.
The tourism sector is important to many developing economies like Jamaica that rely on it to bring in much-needed revenue. Small businesses, accommodation providers, transportation, infrastructure and other areas are affected by the tourism sector. The recent jump in growth has prompted the government of Jamaica to expand its tourism sector to compensate for its increased demand. In fact, the director of Tourism Donavan White said that the country was “experiencing record growth numbers, receiving global recognition like never before and undergoing major developments.” Unfortunately, COVID-19 has put a damper on some of the growth for 2020.
Small Business Growth
More than 120,000, or one in four, Jamaicans worked in tourism in 2019. The sector accounts for about 20% of GDP. That year, the government took these facts in mind and created the Big Up Small Business initiative to assist entrepreneurs in Jamaica’s tourism sector. The Big Up Small Business project has already trained more than 250 microbusiness owners to meet international requirements.
The entrepreneurs were also taught methods on how to market their businesses to tourists. These businesses included accommodation providers, farmers and water sports operators. Also, 10 entrepreneurs will be selected and given even greater assistance in their tourist businesses, such as guidance from experts in the travel industry.
Jamaican Government Expands Tourism
In a speech in 2018, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett mentioned that the tourism industry grew at 5% between the period of January to October 2017. He expects the industry to continue to grow at that rate for the next five years. The initial 5% was fast, but it increased by 9% in 2019. The goals for the five-year plan include targeting new markets, offering new products, increasing investments, creating new partnerships and revitalizing human capital. The benefits of expanding the sector are widespread as manufacturing, construction, agriculture, transportation and cultural areas are all affected by tourism.
Edmund Bartlett’s goal of expanding Jamaica’s tourism sector proved successful in recent years. In 2019, the accommodation sub-sector grew in popularity to handle the millions of annual guests. In 2019, Marriott opened a 220-room hotel in Kingston, the capital and largest city, and Half Moon Resort incurred a $75 million renovation project. A massive project from Karisma Hotels and Resorts costs about $1 billion and will have about 4,700 rooms. The Karisma project began in March 2020 and has the ability to create more than 10,000 jobs.
Big Plans for Jamaican Tourism
At the Jamaica Product Exchange in 2019 Jamaica gained the interest of two airline partners that operate from Moscow, Russia. They hoped to establish a travel destination to Montego Bay. Delta Airlines created a line from Detroit and New York to Montego Bay in the same year, and American Airlines did the same. Both companies noted that the U.S. makes up 60% of tourists in Jamaica.
As part of its five-year plan, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett mentioned mini-destinations across the island could draw in even more tourists. One of the targeted areas is the Clarendon parish that was picked due to its eco-friendly prominence. This shows Jamaica is pinpointing small but valuable areas while also developing partnerships with large and small businesses.
The depths of the effect that COVID-19 will have on tourism in Jamaica is still unclear. Jamaica’s tourism sector is slowing due to the 2020 coronavirus, yet it hopes tourists will return in September. Jamaica has had 696 cases and 10 deaths so far. The government has already created a COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Task Force to find ways to keep the industry alive. As of June 15, Jamaica opened its borders to tourists. Upon arrival, travelers will experience testing and symptom screenings.
– Lucas Schmidt