Jamaica’s tourism minister warns recovery could drive inequalities

The recovery in global travel risks heightening inequalities in the sector rather than driving development to remove them, Jamaica tourism minister Edmund Bartlett has warned.

Bartlett, founder of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) in Jamaica and co-chair of the Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council, hit out at the industry’s record in developing destinations, saying: “Tourism never fulfilled its mandate as a driver of development and inclusivity. It is essentially a driver of exclusivity.”

Speaking at the launch of a book on tourism resilience and recovery in London, Bartlett insisted “we don’t want to go back” to the tourism of the pre-pandemic era, arguing: “We have to make tourism the property of communities.”

He told Travel Weekly: “Tourism has morphed into a global powerhouse. It has become an essential economic activity. The wealth tourism brings is attractive to entrepreneurs. [But] the value of tourism as a tool of development is missed. Tourism has only achieved development and inclusion in certain areas.”

Bartlett highlighted “the asymmetry” at the heart of the industry when “the 80% of tourism stakeholders that are SMEs receive less than 20% of the revenue”, pointing out: “The wealth of tourism flows to the 20%.”

The experience of tourism is delivered by “little people”, he said, “but the main beneficiaries are big companies”.

He argued: “Part of the problem is that the supply side of tourism is not driven by local communities. It is driven by companies in the source markets. The inputs of tourism are owned by source market companies, in the same way the big countries dominated vaccine production and disruption. A small percentage of each dollar stays [in the destination].”

Bartlett added: “The labour market in tourism is akin to the plantation system – most tourism workers have no tenure and work seasonally. We tend to align service with servitude.”

He warned the recovery “is going to be a bigger challenge than the pandemic” for the sector, suggesting: “There is huge demand for supplies that are not there. Travellers are going to be competing for food in communities. We can’t run away from it. The logistics are a disaster.

“But the biggest disruption is in human capital. In Jamaica, we lost 20,000 workers to other industries and to emigration. Our workers are among the lowest paid and the working conditions are abominable. This recovery is not about business as usual.”

Bartlett argued: “The vulnerabilities of tourism are clear. The recovery is not going to be linear or equitable. A whole lot of countries are going to be left behind and poverty will increase. Inflation is going to reach a new high. Airfares will go to the skies and eliminate a socio-economic group of people from tourism.”

The minister was in London to speak at the launch of a book he has co-edited, Tourism Resilience and Recovery for Global Sustainability and Development, and to be inducted to the Global Travel Hall of Fame.

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