The abortive hijacking of a Canadian flight at Montego bay’s Sangster International Airport, could well be the death knell for Jamaica’s insipid tourism industry if the industry’s players are not proactive. It is time to cut the posturing and act to save what’s left of a formerly dependable sector. Recently there has been much crowing about an increase in tourist arrivals but the gloating is very disingenuous and is indicative of a desperate government using statistics in a deceptive manner.
The arrival numbers from November 2008 to January 2009 has shown growth only in January. Tourism was down 1.8 per cent in November, 0.2 per cent in December and up 4.2 per cent in January.
At face value that is a laudable feat but let’s look a bit closer at factors which resulted in the exalted January figures. There was a very cold winter in North America and hoteliers gave deep discounting of rooms, hence the rosy arrivals picture. While we saw those arrivals there were fewer less US dollars earned by the industry. That will have a negative impact on the economy because projected financial earnings will not be achieved, thus affecting projected budgetary expenditures.
The 2008 Beijing and Mid East junkets by the Tourism Minister and the hierarchy of the Tourism Enhancement Fund were a waste of taxpayer’s money. They had no impact on the gloriously celebrated growth in arrivals. It was the now threatened Canadian market which generated the growth. Of our three major markets only Canada has shown any form of life.
The USA and Europe, inclusive of the U.K have been showing a steady decline that will only get worse as the global recession gets more horrid. It is by no accident or any earth shattering initiative of this current minister and his team that led to the explosion of the Canadian market in this our dire hour of need.
In the 2004 Jamaica Tourist Board restructuring, the potential of Canada as a separate market from the USA was recognized. It was reasoned that the tourism product was over dependent of the USA thus Canada was separated. The Pat Samuels team which would later be led by Sandra Scott, did a tremendous job in marketing Jamaica’s tourism product, which along with two other critical factors, a strong Canadian dollar and the ready availability of passports by Canadians, were the reasons today Jamaica is reaping benefits from the Canadian market.
One needs only to visit the Sangster International Airport on any given Saturday they will see the high volume of Canadians who are airlifted into the island by the Spanish investors who, by the way, were a part of the 2004 JTB reorganization.
No one knows how the global recession will impact the Canadian economy or how the abortive commandeering of the CanJet airline will affect the tourism industry but we should prepare for any and all upheavals in that market and increase funding for the marketing of the product there rather than waste scarce resources on junkets to all corners of the earth.
The Tourism Enhancement Fund spent vast sums of money inconsiderately over the past year that cannot be allowed to continue or go unchecked. While I continue to call for an investigation of the TEF and TPDCo by the Contractor General, the TEF must now be encouraged to spend money to assure the world that Jamaica is safe and not susceptible to terrorist threats internally or externally. It’s time for accountability.