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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Jamaican minister laments low tourism dollar retention in region

KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) -- Jamaica's Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, has said Caribbean destinations must forge a collaborative unit in order to keep tourism earnings within the region.

Speaking on Tuesday at the Rotary Club's District 7020 annual conference in New Kingston, the Minister said most Caribbean nations were solely or significantly dependent on tourism for their economic survival.

Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett (JIS)He said, as a result, it was essential for those nations to work together to find ways to minimise the "leak" of the tourism dollar, and to ensure that the earnings from the market stay in their countries.

Bartlett noted that one in every four jobs in the Caribbean is generated by tourism, some 60 per cent of foreign direct investment in the region is related to tourism investment and, perhaps, 40 per cent of general foreign exchange is driven by tourism.

However, he said that, in the Caribbean, the tourism dollar does not stay in the destination, but "goes back to where it came from." He stated that many Caribbean destinations are retaining as low as seven cents of every dollar they gain from the tourist.

"Nobody in the Caribbean is saying that we are getting 60 cents or 80 cents of the dollar remaining. The failing is that we have not been able, in the region, to tap fully into the supply chain and to be able to ensure that every cent from the dollar stays in the destination," he lamented.

Caribbean destinations have not been able to accomplish this, because they have not invested in the "supply side" of the industry, he said.

"We have invested mainly in the demand side and, in order to generate that demand, we have to spend overseas because our marketing is overseas," he argued.

He said research has shown that currently only about three per cent of the produce from the agricultural sector goes into tourism, while other industries supply between 15 and 35 per cent.

"We quarrel about export issues and trade issues and competition in the global market for our commodities and agricultural produce, and we're sitting right here with an export industry that has the capability to absorb every kilo of our supplies, every unit, and we ignore it."

He said local farmers have the opportunity to tap into the tourism market, but must first work on a number of key points. He suggested that to deal with the supply side of the market, there must be volume, consistency, quality and a price point.

"Because it has to compete with the rest of the world and that is what we must be serious about," he said.

He argued that while the Jamaican farmer might not be able to do it alone, this was an ideal point in which farmers in the region can collaborate and link with others in the industry.

"If we supply those demands for the tourism industry, the Caribbean can become self-sufficient in many regards. But, it requires some innovation, some new thinking and this is where we are going," Bartlett stated.

May 6, 2010