Jamaica Gleaner / THE RECENT rash of hurricanes to affect the Caribbean has lent urgency to efforts to shore up the climate change preparedness of Jamaica’s multi-million-dollar tourism industry.
“The Caribbean is one of the most tourism-dependent regions in the world. In fact, 13 of 79 countries in the world with economies,” the ministry said in a written response to queries from The Gleaner .
“The destruction wrought by hurricanes Irma and Maria on many of our sister islands has brought this sharply into focus with repercussions throughout the tourism value chain,” it added.
Tourism continues to outpace all other sectors of the regional economy, and has since the 1970s.
“The sector expanded by an unprecedented 4.2 per cent in 2016 as the region welcomed a historic 29 million visitors, over one million more visitors than in 2015,” the ministry said.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as Harvey before them, left in their wake a trail of destruction, from lives lost to billions in damage in islands such as Barbuda and Dominica and others as well as the United States territory of Puerto Rico and states Texas and Florida.
Among the ministry’s efforts so far is mainstreaming climate change and disaster risk management into the tourism sector through the Climate Change and Multi-Hazard Contingency Programme.
“This programme not only addresses disaster preparedness, response and recovery matters, but also instigates a more integrated sense of environmental awareness in the way we go about our business,” explained Osbourne Chin, director of tourism facilitation in the policy and monitoring division.
Among other things, the programme reportedly sees the tourism ministry collaborating with the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management “to plan and implement specific projects and capacity building and training sessions for the tourism sector”.
Added Chin: “In the past 10 years, the ministry has hosted a number of sensitisation workshops on climate change as well as carried out training sessions in the following areas: initial and detailed damage assessment, damage and loss assessment, business continuity, emergency operations, hurricane preparedness, first aid and light search and rescue.”
It has also strengthened the sector’s communications system, with the acquisition of two satellite phones and six two-way radio phones for use in the Tourism Emergency Operations Centre, in the event of a disaster.
“The ministry will be seeking to procure an additional six radio phones before the end of the year,” Chin revealed.
Meanwhile, the climate threat against tourism is no joke; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its fifth assessment report points to this.
“Climate change will affect tourism resorts, particularly ski resorts, beach resorts, and nature resorts (robust evidence, high agreement) and tourists may spend their holidays at higher altitudes and latitudes (medium evidence, high agreement),” said the IPCC, which is the global body for the assessment of climate change research.
“The economic implications of climate change-induced changes in tourism demand and supply entail gains for countries closer to the poles and higher up the mountains and losses for other countries. The demand for outdoor recreation is affected by weather and climate, and impacts will vary geographically and seasonally,” it added.
Already, the island is responding to this projected shift.
“We have made great strides to reduce the seasonality of our tourism sector by developing marketing strategies to target vacationers other than those that traditionally travel during the winter season. We now have as healthy a summer season as our winter tourist season. We continue to diversify our market base to reduce vulnerability to changes in travel patterns motivated by changing climate conditions and weather patterns,” Chin said.
Meanwhile, the ministry admits its efforts to date have not been without challenges.
“The lack of human and physical resources within the ministry to implement some of the programmes remains a challenge. The ministry primarily depends on external partners and agencies to execute and sometimes these activities do not fall in line with their current strategic operational plans. In other instances, those agencies are inadequately resourced,” it said.
“Funding remains a barrier to implementation; however, with proper planning and prioritisation of activities, we have been able to adequately and successfully implement the programmes and projects that address climate change and disaster management,” it added.