Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, says Caribbean tourism continues to grow at record pace, with data from the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) showing that the region has welcomed 16.6 million visitors for the first six months of the year.
The figure is 800,000 more than for the similar period in 2016, constituting a growth rate of 5.22 per cent.
Minister Bartlett, who was giving the welcome address at the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) conference at the Montego Bay Convention Centre in St. James on November 27, said tourism in the region grew at an unprecedented rate of 4.2 per cent in 2016, outpacing the global average of 3.9 per cent.
This, he said, was amid volatility and uncertainty in main source markets, such as the United States and parts of Europe.
“The region welcomed a historic 29 million visitors in 2016, over one million more visitors than in 2015. The data for 2016 also indicate that cruise tourism in the region is booming, as cruise passenger arrivals grew by an estimated 1.3 per cent, to approximately 26.3 million in 2016,” he pointed out.
He said that Jamaica’s tourism performance for 2017 has been impressive, with the country on track to surpass last year’s historic growth rate of four per cent or 3.84 million visitors in total.
“We welcomed over 3.3 million visitors in the first nine months of 2017 and we expect total arrivals to surpass four million by the first week of December,” he told the conference delegates.
“Gross foreign exchange earnings for the first 10 months of the year were US$2.34 billion, which is a 10.8 per cent increase over the corresponding period in 2016. We remain firmly committed and convinced that our tourism industry is on the right track and that we will achieve our growth target of ‘five in five’ or five per cent annual growth rate in five years,” he said.
The Minister noted that the tourism sector in the region has traditionally been very resilient and remains one of the most valuable contributors to job creation, poverty alleviation, investments, export revenues, gross domestic product (GDP) and to the economic livelihoods of millions of citizens.
He said, however, that “its gentle balance can be easily disturbed by a wide range of risks and threats”.
“These include global economic recessions, global food shortages, an oil crisis, political instability in major source markets, terrorist attacks, environmental disasters and pandemics and epidemics, just to name a few,” he said.
“As we have seen recently with the passage of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, it just takes one powerful disaster to devastate whole national economies, thus we can never become complacent,” he pointed out.
Minister Bartlett said that regional heads will now have to reassess existing strategies for managing risks and challenges, incorporate new approaches and harness new opportunities for growth and expansion in the tourism sector.
“Indeed, the sustainability and resilience of our tourism sector is hinged upon us being forward-thinking, proactive, collaborative, multifaceted and innovative in our approaches to tourism development in the region,” he argued.
The three-day conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth is being jointly hosted by the UNWTO, Government of Jamaica, World Bank Group and the Inter-American Development Bank.