A Return and Growth: Q&A with Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister
Past turned to prologue in Jamaica this past week as Edmund Bartlett, the country’s tourism minister from 2007 to 2011, returned to the post following Andrew Holness’ election as prime minister.
Bartlett replaces Wykeham McNeill, who in 2011 unseated Bartlett as part of Portia Simpson Miller’s government. The once and present minister will seek to extend a successful period for the tourism-reliant Caribbean nation. Jamaica hosted 2.1 million visitors in 2015 and has recorded more than two million visitors in each of the past two years, with each year representing a record total for the country.
We spoke recently with Minister Bartlett to discuss his goals as he embarks on his second campaign as Jamaica’s tourism minister.
TravelPulse: What are your immediate goals as tourism minister?
Edmund Bartlett: I think we are driven by some realities. Within our financial limitations we want to ensure that there is tourism growth. We have sought to drive our own formula that will enable us to deal with our obligations. We don’t think that fiscal policies alone can do it. We must drive growth policies. My mantra in tourism is growth, growth and more growth.
TP: You’ve served as shadow minister for foreign affairs and trade since leaving office as tourism minister in 2011. Are there things you have learned in that time that will help you in your second tenure as tourism minister?
EB: I’ve always thought that wherever I am that tourism will be part of the mix. I believe that we have done a lot of good work over the years but there is a lot more to be done. There is a lot of unfinished business. The South American market has not come on stream in the way that it should and remains a frontier for us to conquer. The Eastern European market essentially also has not come up to the level that we want and represents another frontier.
In the case of North America, we have so much more to do and so many more areas to conquer within that very rich and lucrative market. So there’s lots to be done on the marketing side. We have visitor arrivals from North America of a little over 1.7 million; we can do much better. In fact we can do in excess of two million out of North America alone.
And so my target, in this early period, is to drive the next million in stopover arrivals within the next five years. It’s possible because we have the market size to draw on. North America is huge.
READ MORE: Bartlett Returns as Jamaica Tourism Minister
TP: You are following an administration that presided over significant arrivals increases including Jamaica’s first year with more than two million visitor arrivals. Do you feel challenged to continue this record of success?
EB: The challenge is not to continue growth but is to grow at a higher level than we have in the past. Because what we have done in the past 20 years or so is maintain an average annual growth of 2.5 to 3 percent. In order to get the growth the country needs and to build the economy that is needed to avoid some of the social pitfalls that we now have, tourism, which is the centerpiece of our export drive, has to grow by double digits. The strategy has to be to attain double digit growth.
TP: During your previous tenure you faced some criticism for your ultimately successful effort to increase visitor fees designated for Jamaica’s Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). Over the past decade, TEF funds have supported several significant public and tourism infrastructure projects around the country. Will you expand TEF and other programs during your present term?
EB: The TEF has grown as general tourism arrivals have grown. It has become a very significant force for development support in communities as well as for the travel infrastructure. So we are excited with the prospects of putting together some very significant new perks on the basis of the Tourism Enhancement Fund.
There are iconic attractions that need to be supported within Jamaica that will help to redefine the destination. TEF is going to be instrumental in helping us to find these new attractions and enable us to build on the human capital that is essential I believe to the experience we are offering to the world.
READ MORE: Top 5 Things to Do in Kingston, Jamaica
TP: Jamaica is the third-most visited Caribbean destination according to Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO) data. Why has the destination been so popular with North American vacationers?
EB: The most iconic attraction of all is well known to be our people. So we want to build our people and train them more. We want to build opportunities for them to be more resourceful and creative. The craft industry for example needs to have products that are authentically Jamaican. We are going to be establishing an institute of craft to train our artisans into more creative ways of expressing their ideas and thoughts, and also to give them opportunities to convert those thoughts into commercial value. The higher income earnings for them can only come from more authentic, real Jamaican creations. People will buy authentic Jamaican products at much higher prices than they will pay for exports.
TP: Jamaica has added a handful of new hotels in the past two years and developers have expressed plans to add another 5,000 rooms in the next 10 years. Are you satisfied with Jamaica’s rate of hospitality growth?
EB: This (hotel) area has to be accelerated because what we have been doing a lot of is refurbishing of existing hotels and the replacement of some that had been demolished. We need to increase our room stock to 50,000 to get the capacity to drive an increase to reach five million stopover arrivals. My prediction has to be that we will go toward achieving those 50,000 rooms within the next 10 years.
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