Interview with Mr. Donovan White, Director of Tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board

My first question is about Jamaica’s new five-year tourism strategy which aims to reach pre-COVID levels by 2023. Considering what has happened in the last twelve months, what is your current outlook for Jamaica’s tourism sector, in the context of the global travel industry recovery? What are some of the targets that you are working towards this year as part of your rebound strategy?

We are actively doing our strategic reset, led by The Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism and his vision for the tourism strategy. We are reviewing what the post-COVID world will look like, what travel might feel like and how to position our destination in this “new look” world. Our discussions include digital passports and vaccination cards and what these will mean for people taking the vaccination, wearing masks and still having to protect themselves for some time in the future. Tourism is the lifeblood of our economy: In the last five years, tourism grew to some 4.3 million visitors per year, earning 3.78 billion USD which in effect contributed directly to about 10% of our GDP and about a third of our GDP when you include the indirect and induced earnings from tourism. It is a critical part of our development and economic strategy and from that perspective we are thrusting forward as one of the industries that must, as people and as a country, rebound strongly. This is important in order to ensure that our economic windfalls and national projects can continue at a pace as they did in 2019 going into 2020. In terms of forecasting our numbers, we anticipate that for 2021 calendar year Jamaica will have approximately 1.1 million visitors, generating around 1.6 billion USD in revenue. These numbers are significantly different to the ones I just mentioned for 2019 but we understand that tourism and travel has taken a global hit over the last 12 months and it will take some time for us to ramp up all of our resources and have the airlift and cruise availability return to its former levels. For 2022 we expect to grow those numbers up to about 2.5 million with about 2 billion USD in revenue. These are our short-term and medium-term outlooks and those numbers are estimated and based on the pace of the return of air travel and cruise passengers. We are constantly in a space of “review and revise” but continue to be ready as a destination to grow rapidly when that occurs. Nevertheless, we continue to focus on the things that will make our product better, more resilient and certainly stronger than we ever had before. We forecast for the 2021, calendar year, about 1.1 million in total arrivals we anticipate earnings will be about US$1.6 billion, Looking further out into 2022 we are anticipating somewhere about 2.5 million in total arrivals and about US$2 billion in revenues.

You mentioned tourism as one industry that is quite an innovative sector in Jamaica. Your decision to open international borders last June was quite remarkable as it was not an easy decision to make. You implemented some innovative strategies like Jamaica's “resilient corridor” together with the “Rediscover Jamaica” campaign which focused on domestic tourism. Some of these strategies have been quite successful, could you comment more about them?

Absolutely, the establishment of the resilient corridor was a game-changer approach for us to reopen. The corridor encourages safe tourism practices through the strict delivery of service that conform to a rigorous set of COVID-19 protocols and is sanctioned by The World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). It was an industry’s first model that has since become an industry standard with many other destinations around the world looking to implement a similar strategy. We feel this new landscape led us to reimagine and to transform our in-person experiences. It allowed us to explore in even more depth our digital capabilities and remain engaged with travellers around the world who are still “wanderlusting.”“Rediscover Jamaica,” our domestic campaign, was again, another successful approach to reinvent ourselves with Jamaicans, the expatriate community and the diaspora. It has been an engaging experience for everyone who has indulged in the experience. The feedback that we received has been nothing but phenomenal and we are really excited as this is an additional opportunity for future growth, for our partners and the tourism product as a whole.

Speaking of recognition, I saw that Jamaica’s position as a leading global tourism destination was confirmed in the latest edition of the World Travel Awards. Jamaica was named the World Leading Family Destination and Word Leading Wedding Destination, as well as the Caribbean’s Leading Cruise Destination. I know that you launched a new site for romance tourism for honeymooners and in our last interview in 2019, you mentioned that 10 years ago, Japanese came to Jamaica quite a lot for their honeymoons. I was wondering if you could share a little bit about this project and comment if there is a potential to attract Japanese visitors for this particular sector of Jamaica’s tourism?

Our new romance microsite, located at our “Visit Jamaica” platform allows lovers planning weddings, honeymoons or romantic getaways to tap into a repository of solutions and options for their romance journey. We have sought to remain on the leading edge of technology and using that technology to innovate and reinvent the destination in many ways. Romance has always been one of Jamaica’s niche markets. Even in the midst of a pandemic, love is not cancelled as now more than ever persons desire romantic trips. Globally there is a trend among couples desiring micro-weddings and we are strategically aligned to meet those needs with customizable experiences. For a very long time, the Japanese came to Jamaica in droves because of their admiration of our culture and to celebrate love. One of our strategies is to continue to engage the Japanese traveller is the whole business of romance, so that they can pre-plan their trip before they get here. Our job will be to make that experience extra special and to make sure that our Japanese visitors get the value they are looking for.

I also read about a couple of other projects that you launched, for example, the “Discover Jamaica by Bike” project. You are focusing on making Jamaica a well-rounded tourism destination, not just about sea, sun and sand, but also about food, coffee, rum and music. For example, Jamaica’s Jazz and Blues Festival began today, being hosted virtually. As you mentioned earlier, at this time you are leveraging technologies for such projects. Could you share a little more about that with us?

During lockdown last year, we did our first set of virtual experiences “Escape to Jamaica.” It was meant to give our audiences a taste of what they were missing, whether it was helping them to make a Jamaican flavoured drink, helping them to keep fit or providing a DJ that would allow them to listen to some Jamaican music and have a good time at home. It was all about having great fun and designed to keep them engaged. However, as we went on, we started to explore some other experiences. As you know, Jamaica is known for reggae music and some of the most fantastic music. For music festivals like Reggae Sumfest, Reggae Sunsplash and the Jazz and Blues Festival, we were able to support the production mechanism with the promoters to ensure that we could stream these festivals in high definition quality right across the world. These have been phenomenal experiences in terms of their take-up, reach and engagement and have allowed us to find new channels using our online portals to tap into new markets; where our reggae and dancehall music are celebrated every day. You mentioned our “Discover Jamaica by Bike” project. This is one of newest adventure experiences, and we partnered with the Jamaica Cycling Association. They wanted to know if we felt that tourists would want to experience the adventure of riding distances across Jamaica. We felt it was a novel idea. Whether they are flying or cruising, travellers could check in their bike as a piece of luggage. This then creates the opportunity for local tour operators to include this experience as part of their package. Renting a bike is an option and participants can join a group on a ride across Jamaica with a tour guide, allowing riders to experience off the beaten path destination gems.

In February, the Jamaican government appointed an Honorary Investment Advisor, tasked with increasing awareness of Jamaican investment and trade opportunities and cultivating strong business relationships in Japan. Where do you see potential synergies or potential partnerships with Japan in terms of foreign direct investment? The Tokyo Olympics is coming up this summer as well, do you see an opportunity for a mutual collaboration?

Many people may not know that our relationship with Japan dates back to the mid 1960s, due to our mutual respect and interests. Jamaica and Japan have worked together on areas including tourism, infrastructure development, trade, educational programmes, financial and technical support and culture. Japan is a major market for Jamaica’s Blue Mountain Coffee, importing about 80% of Jamaica's total coffee production each year. Furthermore, Japan’s teaching programme “JET” enables Jamaican participants to utilize their teaching skills to the best benefit of students in Japan. Likewise, in 2016, in order to boost our tourism arrivals out of the Japanese market, there was a twinning project of Westmoreland, which is our westernmost parish in Jamaica, with Tottori in Japan. In 2019 we re-entered the Japanese market in a major way, having attended the Japan Expo. We value the importance of the Japanese market and in 2019 we re-entered the market. The pandemic has put on a pause on our activities, but we look forward to reengaging the market as soon as it is safe to travel The pandemic has put a pause on some of our activities that we would have planned since 2019, but we look forward to re-engaging with the Japanese market, not only as soon as it is safe to travel but as soon as the opportunities present themselves. It is also important to mention that in terms of the business opportunities that exist or can exist between our two countries, in 2019 Jamaica was voted by Forbes as the sixth easiest place to start a business globally. The same year we were voted as the best Caribbean country in which to do business. This creates a business climate that will attract high quality investment and tourism investment opportunities are available in various segments within the industry such as health, wellness, gastronomy, food, attractions and accommodations. Certainly, I want to use this opportunity to invite Japanese with an appetite for investment to engage with us because we are open for business and we are looking for new business opportunities. Japan and Jamaica have continued to have a very fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship. This is a big year with Tokyo staging the Olympics and Jamaicans are well known for their athletic prowess at the games. We anticipate that our athletes will continue to enjoy the kind of hospitality from Japan as a country and certainly in the city of Tokyo, as we always do when we visit Japan. Similarly, we want to use that opportunity to further deepen our relationships on the business and tourism side of things, continuing to build a bridge between Japan and Montego Bay and Kingston with the development of airlift and more trade arrangements that will allow for both our countries to continue doing business in the future.