February 17, 2023, was an historic day for tourism, as it was the first Global Tourism Resilience Day, as declared by the United Nations.
Moreover, it was also the first day designated to tourism since the UN declared World Tourism Day in 1980.
It was therefore befitting that the world’s first Global Tourism Resilience Conference (GTRC) was held from Feb. 15-17, at the University of the West Indies regional headquarters in Kingston, Jamaica.
And PAX was there to capture the action.
The conference was born out of the urgent need to protect tourism-dependent countries from catastrophic disruptors and was the brainchild of Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett.
“We are making a new statement in terms of global collaboration of leadership. We are asking for confluence of ideas to enable for a solution to be found in the business of managing, mitigating, forecasting, recovering, and thriving after disruptions,” said Minister Bartlett in his opening remarks at the event.
As such, the conference drew ministerial delegations from the Caribbean, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East to brainstorm and share best practices to lessen the impact of disruptive events such as COVID-19.
Together with the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC), of which Minister Bartlett is the founder and co-chair, conference attendees explored crucial topics such as effective crisis communication, digital technology, and investments in tourism development.
In addition, a full day was dedicated to the collaboration between African and Caribbean nations to cross-promote tourism.
Resilience in numbers
Although the Caribbean is the largest tourism-dependent region in the world, it is also the fastest-recovering region.
The Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association reported worldwide inbound tourism traffic in January at minus 33 percent, yet the Caribbean region is only at minus two percent.
Jamaica is at the forefront, with the island having reached 97 percent in recovery, and its projected earnings in the first quarter of 2023 (USD $1.4M) have surpassed pre-pandemic levels, which was USD$1.29M in 2019.
Canada & Jamaica: One Love
Supporting these statistics are strong numbers from Canada.
PAX spoke to Angella Bennett, Canada’s regional director for the Jamaica Tourist Board, who said: “the demand for travel to Jamaica has increased tremendously.”
"Canadians want to get together again, they want to come to Jamaica and feel the vibe, to come alive and live their best lives in Jamaica,” Bennett said.
According to Bennett, Canadian arrivals in January 2023 numbered 44,424, up by 291 percent from January 2020 and just 10 percent shy of January 2019’s figure of 49,392.
To help bring excited visitors to Jamaica, Canadian airlines and tour operators will offer 28,000 additional seats this winter and talks with new airlines are currently in progress.
Sandals business “booming,” says Stewart
Speaking with PAX, Sandals Resorts International’s Executive Chairman Adam Stewart also praised the resilience of Canadian travellers, with January 2023 arrival numbers showing a 236 percent increase from pre-pandemic days.
Although it took a little longer for Canadians to return to Jamaica due to stringent travel restrictions, Stewart confirmed that business from Canada is “booming.”
“What I’m seeing out of Canada is consumers reaching out and taking better care of themselves than ever before in terms of luxury and quality and top suites. We are very happy with Canada. It’s been fantastic, as the Caribbean has been a darling to Canada for a long time.” Stewart told PAX.
Stewart also credited Canadian travel advisors for their efforts since they contribute 60 per cent of Sandals’ business from Canada.
Last year’s bookings were up 42 per cent and are already tracking upwards of 30 per cent so far this year.
“Travel agents are the fastest growth channel for us as a brand, the growth is huge double digits. The success that we’ve been able to maintain while others had their ups and downs is our belief in the importance of the travel agent in delivering specialized service to their consumer,” Stewart said.
Big numbers = aggressive growth
Supporting this rapid speed of recovery is Jamaica’s continuous growth in room inventory.
Close to 8,000 new hotel rooms are slated to open in Jamaica this year, and in early 2024, including the Riu Hotel in Trelawny, the Princess Resort in Hanover, the Hard Rock Hotel in Montego Bay, and several ambitious projects by Sandals.
Stewart confirmed that Sandals Dunn’s River is on track to open on May 24.
A new village of luxury family villas in Beaches Negril will follow, and the unveiling of the renovated French Village at Sandals South Coast is expected by the end of 2023.
Also in the works are seven to eight new properties and new destinations, the details of which will be announced soon.
Greening the way forward
Despite this growth, sustainability remains the centre of focus and a key mandate of global tourism resiliency, particularly in the use of natural and renewable resources.
Examples include the Sandals Dunn River resort drawing 100 per cent of its water usage from natural mineral springs, incorporating Jamaica’s Blue Mountain coffee and other natural ingredients into spa products, and even turning the problematic sargassum seaweed into biofuel.
Visitors can also play a role in sustainability practices, such as helping in coral restoration and participating in turtle protection programs.
The future of tourism is in people
While investing in tourism infrastructures is important, the need to invest in human capital is even greater.
Minister Bartlett reminded the audience that 72 million people lost their jobs due to the pandemic, and in Jamaica, 20 percent of its workforce did not return.
It is therefore crucial for countries to incentivize and prepare their nationals to join the hospitality industry.
Current efforts include Canada’s own George Brown College, which is partnering with the GTRCMC and the University of the West Indies in Kingston to provide student exchange opportunities in their hospitality and tourism management program.
In Jamaica, Sandals Corporate University is already in place to provide certification in hospitality, and work is in progress to build the Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart International School of Hospitality & Tourism, which will be headquartered in Montego Bay with an online campus across the Caribbean.
Stewart hopes that other hospitality companies will follow suit to create similar opportunities.
“If not us, then who? It is our duty. We must inspire [the next generation] to come into this greatest industry,” he said.
The conference ended with a declaration recognizing the importance of building tourism resilience.
Minister Bartlett outlined three recommendations: to reignite global South-South relations using tourism as the driver beginning with Africa and the Caribbean, establish a global tourism resilience fund that will support destinations in responding to their own crises and disasters, and labour markets to reignite recovery that does not leave tourism workers behind.
Meanwhile, the next Global Tourism Resilience Conference will be held in the city of Malaga, Spain in February 2024.
Kingston – a culturally immersive stay
Before GTRC began, PAX explored some of Kingston’s top attractions – and we were thoroughly impressed.
Visitors looking for an authentic cultural and immersive experience beyond the sun and sand should consider a stay in the Jamaican capital. The city’s redeveloped waterfront has attracted new hotels and businesses in the area.
Here are our top picks of must-sees:
Bob Marley Museum
A visit here is not only nostalgic, but also an emotional experience, as visitors are guided through the museum located inside Marley’s residence, where he lived the last eight years of his life.
The story of the reggae superstar from birth to his untimely death is told through a large collection of music memorabilia, photographs, news articles, and award-winning records that adorn the walls.
Water Lane Murals
An ongoing project by the non-profit organization Kingston Creative to promote creativity and revitalize downtown Kingston, the Water Lane area contains more than 60 colourful murals that have been created by Jamaican and international artists.
A must-see! Visitors can book a guided tour or walk through on their own.
Craighton Estate coffee
A 30-minute drive from Kingston will bring you to the Blue Mountains, where the air is cooler and the views are spectacular.
It is in these verdant hills that Jamaica’s famous Blue Mountain coffee is grown, and visitors can take a guided tour to learn all about coffee from bean to cup and take a walk through the plantation.
Pretty Close 876
Just outside of Gordon Town but still “pretty close” to Kingston, Omar “Ramo” Edwards delivers a nature-inspired excursion that includes a meal cooked in his outdoor, thatch-roofed kitchen.
What’s on the menu? Fresh fish, rice and peas, vegetables and plantains from his farm, and whatever Ramo might fancy and has on hand.
Dine waterside, or sit on a tree stump in the water while you eat. After the meal, take a guided walk to a waterfall for a relaxing dip.