By Fareeza Haniff in Montego Bay, Jamaica
Jamaica is one of few countries in the world whose tourism sector has fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic and now the island is on a path to expansion and is set to rake in some US$5 billion in foreign exchange earnings in 2025.
“Jamaica has been able to say to the world ‘Yes, we’ve recovered and we have recovered beyond 2019’.
“We’re one of the few countries in the world that could truly say that in two years, we’ve moved from zero as far as the economy is concerned to now be the hero of the economy,” Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett told reporters at a news conference at the Jewel Grande Hotel in Montego Bay.
Scores of journalists from around the world are in Jamaica for the country’s premier trade show, JAPEX (Jamaica’s Product Exchange), which was last held in 2019 due to the pandemic.
During one of the JAPEX sessions at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, the Director of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), Donovan White, revealed that from January through August 2023, preliminary arrivals indicate that the island has seen an increase in stopovers of 5.2 per cent over 2019 – its last pre-pandemic year.
“Before even the end of June 2023, Jamaica welcomed over two million visitors with record earnings of US $2 billion, 18 per cent above the 2019 earnings for the same time period,” White said.
He added, “What this really means is that our visitors are staying slightly longer in the destination which is good, but they are also spending more.”
The JTB estimates some 3.8 million visitors by the end of this year with gross foreign exchange earnings of US$4.2 billion.
According to White, close to 4.6 million people are estimated to visit by the end of 2024 with US$4.3 billion in earnings projected; in 2025, the country is projected to earn some US$5 billion from some five million visitors.
Given these projections, the Tourism Minister lauded the country’s economic growth, largely due to the tourism sector.
“Jamaica is ahead of arrivals…I challenge anywhere to duplicate the level of increase in revenue that Jamaica is experiencing,” Minister Bartlett told reporters.
And investors remain interested in the country; some 2,000 new rooms will open up in early 2024 and Jamaica is on track to build 20,000 new rooms over the next 10 to 15 years.
The Tourism Minister did not shy away from recognising the employees in the tourism sector as he announced housing and more training for them.
“The recovery that we’ve had is very inclusive and it embraces significantly the people who are involved in tourism, the workers of the tourism industry.
“And Jamaica is proud to say that we are the first and at the moment, the only country in the world to have a comprehensive tourism pension plan for the workers of the industry.”
“Our workers need housing and we are providing in the next three to five years over 4,000 houses for the workers of the tourism industry.
“So, within that context of building the capacity of our workforce to respond to the emotional stimulus component…it’s not about salary, not about increasing their take home pay; it’s about building their psyche and enabling them to feel that they’re part of this process of recovery and they are beneficiaries of the products of tourism,” Bartlett said.
Over 10,000 workers in the sector have been trained since 2020 and provided with certificates of competence on the job.