Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica's former minister of tourism, has officially returned to the position and chatted with Travel Agent Wednesday about his goals for his second run at the helm of Jamaica’s tourism industry.
Bartlett, who was one of 18 members sworn in Monday, became Jamaica's minister of tourism in 2007 before he was succeeded by Dr. Kenneth Wykeham McNeill after his party lost the 2011 general elections.
We recently chatted with Bartlett about everything from the growth of the LGBT market in the Caribbean to the recent influx of luxury all-inclusives in Jamaica.
Here are the highlights from that interview:
Will Jamaica Ever Embrace the LGBT Market?
Since Bartlett ended his first run as minister in 2011, the LGBT market to the Caribbean has grown mostly due to the overall acceptance of this market over the years as well as the marriage equality laws recently passed throughout the U.S. and around the world.
But will Jamaica, a deeply conservative island, ever accept this market without controversy?
“Market diversification will continue,” says Bartlett. “The Caribbean lifestyle is a function of a system of values. But values change all the time. Over time, I think there will be a lot more acceptance of certain lifestyles.”
Pennicook to Stay on as Director?
It has yet to be determined who Bartlett’s director of tourism will be, but judging by his comments to Travel Agent, it sounds as though Paul Pennicook, the current director of tourism, will continue in that role.
“Paul is the director and I haven’t quite started that process yet,” says Bartlett, “but he is the director, he’s been doing a good job and he hasn't even been in the position for too long, so I’m not thinking of any change at the moment.”
The Influx of Luxury All-Inclusives
There are a few new all-inclusive brands in Jamaica since Bartlett last served as minister of tourism, including two Mexico brands that recently expanded to the Caribbean for the first time.
Both Palace Resorts and Karisma Hotels & Resorts chose Jamaica as their first point of entry into the Caribbean from Mexico, while Hyatt Hotels & Resorts decided to launch its first ever all-inclusive property in Montego Bay at the site of the former Ritz-Carlton.
“It's a good statement about the quality and the strength of Jamaica and the brand appeal of the destination,” says Bartlett. “The presence of these new brands is an endorsement for Jamaica. It shows that this is the place to visit, the place to do business.”
But Bartlett knows there is still work to be done in ensuring further growth of Jamaica’s hotel product.
“We need to keep expanding,” he says. “We need about 50,000 new rooms over the next 10 years to make Jamaica grow, to bring more than four million stopover arrivals. That would enable us to earn about $4 to $5 billion annually and that would have tremendous implications for the well-being of Jamaica.”
Bartlett says the new markets Jamaica began to tap into when he was still the minister, including South America and Western Europe, haven’t grown the way he anticipated. Because of that, he told us one of his goals during his second tenure as Jamaica’s minister will be to focus on diversification of markets with a primary focus on South America, Western Europe and the expansion of the Canadian market.
“I think that we did not do as well with South America and other markets as we should have,” says Bartlett. “But the opportunity is still there. We feel great about creating a new level of partnerships. We realize we need to greater extend our presence in social media in order to have greater impact in those markets.”
The Tourism Linkages Hub
Bartlett also says he would like to build upon the Tourism Linkages Hub created by Dr. Kenneth Wykeham McNeill. The Tourism Linkages Hub was launched to get greater co-operation between the tourism sector and its agricultural and manufacturing counterparts, with a view to reducing the amount of products imported for the hospitality trade.
“That is a very important initiative,” Bartlett says. “Our travel industry is our main industry. We need to keep the dollars in Jamaica and we need to keep providing those jobs, providing entrepreneurships. Much of the cash flow within the tourism entities needs to stay in Jamaica. I want to build on (the Tourism Linkages Hub) by creating more and more local players and providing critical supplier arrangements for tourism needs.”