The tourism industry needs to move away from “greed” for investment and “ignorance” of its impacts and towards more “academic rigour”, according to the tourism minister of Jamaica.

Edmund Bartlett told the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) global summit in Bangkok last week: “Tourism just happened. It wasn’t planned.”

He said: “We didn’t pay enough attention to the carrying capacity. We just wanted ships to come in, planes to land, hotels to be built.”

The Jamaican tourism minister blamed a combination of “greed and ignorance” for the resulting tourism development.

Bartlett said: “We have the best beaches in the Caribbean, so a $500-million investment, a $1-billion investment, why not?

“But you need to have infrastructure. You have to develop guidelines and a regulatory framework for sustainable development.

‘The trickledown effect in not happening in tourism.’

“It’s a huge task and it requires investment support when governments are finding it hard to allocate funds for tourism-related infrastructure.”

Bartlett said: “Tourism has to subject itself to some academic rigour.”

Jamaica will host a conference on public-private partnerships for sustainable tourism development in November – part of the UN World Tourism Organisation programme for the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.

Bartlett said: “A study of tourism leakage in Thailand found 70% of tourism revenue left the country. In the Caribbean it is 80%. The average for small tourism economies is 40%-50% of gross earnings.

“It means the trickledown effect in not happening in tourism.

“Done the right way tourism has massive potential to create good jobs. When a cruise ship docks or a plane lands, it brings wealth. [But] revenue is not funnelling down from airlines and hotels.”

UNWTO secretary general Taleb Rifai told the summit: “With growth comes responsibility.”

He insisted: “We don’t see growth and sustainability as a zero sum game. We don’t see growth in numbers as the enemy. It’s a challenge for management.

“Growth does not have to be detrimental to the environment or cultural diversity.

Rifai added: “We understand why foreign investors would want to take profits out of a country. When we talk about leakages we mean the result of ignoring the potential of local communities to contribute to development.”

Bartlett said: “It’s the role of government and of investors to ensure balanced growth, and the November conference will be bring together governments and investors.”

UNWTO Global Conference on Building Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism for Development Montego Bay, Jamaica, November 27-29