Last updated: 04:28 PM ET, Fri April 10 2015

Obama’s Jamaica Visit Will Impact Caribbean Tourism

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | April 10, 2015

Obama’s Jamaica Visit Will Impact Caribbean Tourism

PHOTO: President Obama visits the Bob Marley Museum (Official White House photo by Pete Souza).

Although President Barack Obama’s visit this week to Jamaica was the first to the country by a U.S. president since 1982, his meeting with the country’s prime minister and Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders did not focus on tourism. In fact leisure travel was referred to just once in official conversations in the two days President Obama spent in the country.

At a press briefing following her bilateral meeting with Obama, Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica’s prime minister, described the U.S. as “Jamaica’s leading trading partner, main tourism market, and chief source of foreign direct investment.”

The Caribbean in fact has been described by its own leaders as the world’s most tourism-dependent region. Simply put, tourism’s engine cannot operate effectively without continuing political and economic stability in the region. Issues surrounding energy, climate change and entrepreneurship, around which the president’s meetings with government and political leaders focused, are significant ones for tourism stakeholders.

Thus the state of Caribbean relations with the U.S. president is an important gauge of its partnership with the government of its largest travel source market. And, based on the president’s Jamaican visit, which began April 8 and ended yesterday, it’s easy to believe the U.S.-Caribbean relationship will continue on its current course.

Personally, President Obama is very popular in Jamaica. “I just want to say to you, you might not know, but you're very loved in this country, Jamaica,” Simpson-Miller told President Obama at the conclusion of official remarks at the Thursday press briefing.

The Jamaican leader also addressed the large crowds that formed in areas President Obama was rumored to be appearing. “Last night, while I was getting back home, people had lined the streets on the route they thought that you would be driving,” she added. “All the people were out at that time, just wishing to get a glimpse of your vehicle.”   

Like any experienced traveler, the President also seized opportunities to experience aspects of Jamaica’s history and culture. On Wednesday evening he made a surprise visit to the Bab Marley Museum in St. Andrew. Before departing Jamaica on Friday he traveled to a monument to Jamaican soldiers killed in World Wars I and II. Later, he received thunderous applause at a youth forum in which he said marijuana reform “may not be a silver bullet” to boost Jamaica’s economy.

More importantly, Obama and Simpson-Miller discussed issues regarding Jamaica’s economic programs tied to the country’s International Monetary Fund facility, and the nation’s continuing economic and operational development.

“The historic meeting held today sends a positive signal of the strong bilateral relationship that exists between Jamaica and the United States,” said Simpson-Miller.  “During our meeting we explored additional ways of improving our trade and economic relations, including through capacity building for our private sector as well as in the areas of energy security and renewable energy."

“There is a long history between our two peoples,” said Obama, “represented by the many Americans who come here to visit and enjoy Jamaican hospitality [and] the extraordinary Jamaican-American community that has done so much to contribute to the growth and development of our country.”

He continued, “One area that we spent a lot of time focusing on and will discuss further with the other CARICOM leaders is the area of energy,” pointing out that despite fewer resources, Caribbean destinations pay significantly higher prices for energy.

“If we can lower those costs through the development of clean energy and increased energy efficiency, we could unleash, I think, a whole host of additional investment and growth,” Obama said. “I think there are going to be a whole host of areas where the United States can be helpful.”

The leaders also discussed “the issue of climate change, which obviously many island nations are most concerned about,” said Obama. “We began to discuss how we can cooperate further to deal with this issue that will affect generations of Jamaicans and Americans for years to come.”

“One of the outcomes of the President’s visit is the signing by our respective ministers of energy of a statement of intent between Jamaica and the United States to pursue the development and deployment of energy-related technologies,” Simpson-Miller said.

Obama added that the town hall with Jamaican students meeting was intended to address “how we can support entrepreneurship, more student exchanges [and] more effective job-training. So, in summary, it's been an excellent discussion.”

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