Resilience is a priority, Jamaica’s tourism minister tells Ian Taylor

Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism for Jamaica, has a fine turn of phrase and he is using it in a mission to develop the resilience of his own destination and others like it.

He says: “Tourism has morphed into this mega industry. It dominates so many countries’ economies. It is just growing every day – assuming enormous proportions, growing uninterruptedly for 17 years. But with it come enormous vulnerabilities.

“Tourism is by its nature fragile. It is based on a huge number of uncertainties – weather, transportation.

“It is vulnerable to climate events. It’s sensitive to crime, to terrorism, and now to cyberattacks – and it has to respond to public policy and to the forces of the market.”

Bartlett says: “A number of countries are heavily dependent on tourism – the Caribbean among them, the countries of the Pacific Rim, the South China Sea, Vietnam, Cambodia.

“The Maldives has the strongest tourism dependence, but 13 Caribbean countries are in the top-20 destinations most dependent on tourism.

“That makes the ability of the Caribbean to build resilience against climate change and other kinds of disruption critical.”

In line with this, Bartlett plans to open a Global Centre for Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management in Jamaica in September.

He explains: “We need people to come back quickly [to destinations] following disruption.

“Tourism is one of the best ways for a country to bounce back. It brings wealth [immediately]. You don’t have to sow a seed and wait for it to germinate.

“The establishment of the centre will be critical – for research, [to develop] best practice and for communications.”

“The University of the West Indies has provided space. We have developed a structure. We’re in the process of developing partnerships.

“So far, we have Carnival Cruise Line confirmed, the University of Queensland, Australia, and Bournemouth University, England.

“We have buy in from the UN World Tourism Organisation, the World Travel & Tourism Council, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the Pacific Asia Travel Association, the World Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank.”

The centre is due to open on September 22, housed at the University of the West Indies’ Mona Campus in Kingston.

It will include a Sustainable Tourism Observatory which will assist in the preparation for, management of and recovery from crises which impact tourism.

Bartlett explains: “To begin with it will focus on research and [crisis] communications while we build the ICT [information and communications technology] side.”

He points out: “The information has to be credible – and the University of the West Indies is well respected.”

Bartlett aims for the Resilience Centre to become a global resource, as its title suggests, with links to regional centres.

He says: “In time it will become the go-to place for information. It will map seismic trends across the world. It will be a game changer for crisis management in tourism.”

Jamaica’s tourism minister told the recent PATA Summit in Korea: “The arguments for resilience are new to tourism. The industry’s focus is on product and the environment. The tendency is to conserve.

“The challenge is how do we manage and mitigate disruptions. The Resilience Centre will be a centre of knowledge and expertise.”

He contrasts the vulnerability of destinations most dependent on tourism, like his own, with the resilience of the higher-income countries which dominate tourism source markets.

Bartlett says: “This is an industry capable of giving economic rewards to a lot more than it is providing. There is an imbalance to be addressed.

“Lack of equality is a big issue – 80% of tourism is dominated by small and medium-size businesses. But it is driven and marketed by major chains and the real owners are given crumbs.

“Along with the Resilience Centre, we aim to empower people to benefit.”

Bartlett is due to speak at the Resilience through Tourism Summit in Jordan in June.

Resilience Through Tourism Summit, June 26-27, Amman, Jordan