Earl Jarrett, chief executive officer of one of the country’s top three financial conglomerates, The Jamaica National Group, says the country needs to develop a stronger narrative that helps more Jamaicans locally to make the connection between their economic and social realities and the tourism industry.
Mr Jarrett, who delivered the keynote address at the Golden Tourism Day Awards at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in Rosehall, St James, recently, argued that the country could benefit from adopting the United Nations World Tourism Organisation’s proposal to use satellite accounting as a means to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the impact of tourism on the economy and make decisions about the development of the industry.
He maintained that the gains of many of the country’s industries and sectors can be linked to the tourism sector.
“For a company in Kingston that sells Vienna sausages; puts it on a truck and it heads to Whithorn in Westmoreland and then it’s purchased by someone who works in a hotel on the north coast. You can trace that back to the supplying entity and that supplying entity is being funded indirectly through the tourism sector,” he explained.
However, he acknowledged that many Jamaicans are unable to tangibly make this kind of link between tourism and their economic and social reality, beyond what is presented to them via the media.
“One of the challenges faced is that, approximately half of the Jamaican population lives in the Kingston Metropolitan Region and may never come in contact with tourists and tourism directly,” Mr Jarrett, who is a former deputy chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board, said. “There are conscious and unconscious biases about the tourist and the tourism industry.”
Referencing the 2002 study by Dr Leith Dunn and Professor Hopeton Dunn, which assessed Jamaicans’ attitudes towards tourism, Mr Jarrett underscored that what sets the Jamaican product apart from its regional counterparts is its people and, therefore, more focus needs to be placed on developing the social environment for Jamaicans to be warm and welcoming to visitors to their country.
“It is all about putting people at the centre of our tourism plans!” he emphasised. “We have to ensure that the social setting is good for the host Jamaican, so that he or she, can confidently provide that warmth that the Dunns referred to in their paper,” he said.
To this end, he stated that the industry needs to promote itself more locally; and educate children, from an early age, about the sector and its relevance to their lives.
“This evening’s function represents one of the ways we can change the narrative, by celebrating the achievement of persons who have dedicated five decades to the industry and Jamaica by being there to save our economy in times of need,” he said, commending the 36 persons awarded by the Ministry for their dedicated service of 50 years, and more, each to tourism.
Kathleen Henry, a craft vendor, received the final award of the night for 60 years of service to tourism. She cited good customer service as key to sustaining the industry.
Congratulating the awardees, Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett also emphasised the importance of quality service to the Jamaican industry. He said the country’s human capital represents the essence of tourism in the country.
“More than 42 per cent of our visitors to Jamaica are repeat visitors; and when we enquire of them, why they keep coming back to Jamaica, they call the names of the workers of the industry of Jamaica,” he related.
He underscored that the administration is taking seriously the need to develop the human capital in the industry, through the establishment of the Jamaica Centre for Tourism Innovation, which is mandated to provide on-the-job certification for workers. It will also provide young people leaving high school at grade 12 with the opportunity to earn an associate degree in a tourism-related discipline.
“Our service is what defines us, because 60 per cent of the value of the visitor’s experience is the service,” Minister Bartlett stressed.
“And, so we must make our workers able to give not just good service; not just ‘come to mind’’ service; but what you call, ‘opinionated service-service,’ at the level that when they have received it in Jamaica, they will go back and tell the world ‘there ain’t no place like Jamaica’,” he told awardees and celebrants.