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Jamaica Tourism Minister: Strengthen tourism-agriculture linkages to reduce imports

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Local suppliers need to fill tourism demand

Jamaica Minister of Tourism Hon. Edmund Bartlett has issued a charge to local agricultural suppliers to meet the needs of tourism businesses and help reduce the island’s import bill. And at a meeting of farmers at a press conference held recently at the Iberostar Hotel in St. James, the General Manger of Round Hill Villas, Omar Robinson, told farmers that farm tourism could help Jamaica gain a competitive advantage.

Tourism is a major economic pillar of many island nations, and Jamaica is no exception. International tourists bring in foreign currency, but if local suppliers of goods and services cannot meet the needs of the tourism industry, then much of the money ‘leaks’ out of the country to pay for imports to meet the demand. The higher the proportion of goods consumed by tourists that can be met by local businesses, the greater is the economic benefit of tourism to the overall economy.

A Tourism Demand Study published last October sought to identify areas where there is strong opportunity for increased consumption of local goods and services in the tourism sector, and to increase understanding of the supply chain for the tourism sector. Edmund Bartlett referred to the study when speaking recently at a special Tourism Linkages Network meeting at the Ministry’s New Kingston offices, aimed at providing key players in the industry with concrete data which specifically lists the items demanded by the tourism industry that can be produced locally.

The study which was designed to create a framework for effective planning and to identify demand for certain goods and services within the tourism sector, also highlighted that the annual leakage, due to imports, amounts to J$65.4 billion (US$0.53 billion) in the manufacturing sector and between J$1.6 billion and J$5 billion (US$12.9 million and US$40 million) in the agricultural sector.

In order to address the leakages in the industry, Minister Bartlett stated that it was vital to first acknowledge that the value of tourism to Jamaica is being negated by the country’s inability as an economy to absorb the full demand in the industry.

“We must develop the capacity to convert the demand of tourism. Agriculture, manufacturing and services are the three broad areas in which the input of tourism is expressed. If we are able to supply the needs within these categories locally, then the retention of that capital, which visitors bring to the destination, will be assured. If we can’t, it will go back if visitors do not spend or if they spend on goods that we have imported,” stated Minister Bartlett.

The Minister explained that the study provides a starting point for agricultural suppliers to find ways in which they can reduce the import bill for key items by first looking at their production patterns, reliability of the supply, quality of the products and the price points. 

“Agriculture is a critical element on the supply side of tourism. In terms of estimated demand it is J$19.4 billion. The numbers that are outlined in the study suggest that we are selling to the industry some J$4.9 billion of the J$19.4 billion. So there is a gap that we have to fill,” said Mr. Bartlett. 

He also said the study indicates that Jamaica also suffers from seasonality, particularly for fruits between September and December. It was therefore suggested that the solution for this can be found in the restructuring of post-harvesting activities and more aggressive marketing.

The Jamaica Information Service reports that farm tourism is being promoted as another way in which linkages between agriculture and tourism can be developed. Omar Robinson cited agro parks where over 6,000 acres of lands have been brought into production as something which could attract organized tours from hotels and cruise ships. [The Tourism Demand Study reported that the Agro Parks Programme organizes farmers into cooperatives that have the pooled capacity to produce the quantities of agricultural products demanded by the tourism sector.]

“Farm tourism is growing rapidly and a number of countries have been catching on. Here in Jamaica, we could have plantation tours where guests can visit and eat from the farms. By diversifying their businesses, farmers can tap into this niche market by earning foreign exchange while at the same time increase consumption of their local produce,” Mr. Robinson said.

The Tourism Demand Study was conducted by the Centre for Leadership and Governance (CLG) at the Mona Campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) and funded by the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF). The PDF file can be downloaded from the Ministry of Tourism and Information website. The study reports that Jamaica has experienced a steady growth in the number of tourist arrivals over the last decade with total visitor arrivals increasing by 25% within five years, from 2.8 million in 2010 to 3.5 million in 2014. Over this period, the sector’s foreign exchange earnings grew by about 12% from US$2 billion to US$2.24 billion. Due to its linkages with other sectors of the economy, the tourism sector has the potential to propel economic growth, especially in the agricultural, manufacturing, and entertainment sectors.

See also this related article and the Working Paper cited in it: Do “all-inclusive” resorts exclude local businesses?

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