Jamaica Gleaner / Why is Montego Bay significant? More than four million tourists have visited the island since the start of the year. Tourism appears to be booming and the Government is making plans to further expand the sector to facilitate the demand for the Jamaican product. No Jamaican city has catered to the world better than Montego; the prestigious hotels, beaches, rivers and warm and welcoming people have connected with repetitive visitors who are made to feel like kings and queens upon arrival. There is no doubt that the second city is really the tourism capital of the island. Beautification project along the Rose Hall main road has helped to improve the appearance of the city to improve the experience of the tourists and visitors. There is a real effort by everyone to make the lives of the tourist as irie and fun as possible. Hotels have benefited from tax relief for the construction of hotel rooms and have benefited from the skills and hospitality of their staff. But the people, and the inner city infrastructure that is necessary to cater to the people who live in the city, have been neglected.
What about the hotel staff and industry players? The hotel staff are not as fortunate as the tourists they serve and cater to on a daily basis. Many of them employed in the industry continue to struggle, especially those who are employed by hotels that do not allow them to collect tips. Many workers, who receive tips, give testimony as to how vital how the tips are to their survival. Many are also contract workers and do not receive pension benefits. Some do not receive housing benefits and others do not qualify. Additionally, many participants in the tourism industry complain that they do not receive their fair share of earnings from the industry.
They believe that if the industry was better coordinated between hotels, tourists, attractions and vendors, they could significantly increase their incomes or earning potential. Furthermore, they complain that the tourists are alienated from the communities and the communities are alienated from national developmental pursuits.
How so? Recent flood rains in the city of Montego Bay had a negative impact on the flow of business in the tourism capital of Jamaica. Lack of upkeep and increased depreciation, beyond capital expansion in the inner city, has resulted in degradation of roads and other key infrastructure. Many inner-city communities are suffering. In many of these communities, the roads are either unpaved or filled with potholes. Dilapidated community infrastructure including run-down community centres, poorly managed football fields and other sporting facilities restrain the potential of many people from a lot of these communities. When young people are disengaged and disenfranchised from the economy they become idle and the devil finds work for idle hands.
How can the issue be addressed? The increase in the offering of Air Bed and Breakfast services has provided an avenue to incorporate the communities into the tourism product. Many tourists want to understand the real culture of the island and there is no better place to do so than in the communities themselves. But the community needs infrastructure. Youth cubs through partnerships with international organisations have facilitated the inflow of tourists in the communities through different projects. The Mandingo Youth Club in Mt Salem, Montego Bay, for example, along with the Mount Salem Junior High School has provided a decent balance to host tourists on several occasions – Zion Care International through health tourism and more recently, a crew from England. There must be a concerted effort to engage communities on a consistent basis to increase the participation of young people in meaningful income-earning activities. Community infrastructure needs urgent attention; football fields, netball and basketball courts, roads and schools.
What will facilitate these linkages? Education and training are important components to link all the players in the tourism sector. Tourism must continue to intertwine with sports and healthcare activities. For it to be as fruitful as possible, organisers must learn the business skills necessary to coordinate successful events and at the same, time recognise and take advantage of the tourism component that accompanies the hosting of these events. Education and training can be made available through local universities and schools and must be affordable and appropriate to suit the specific needs of the industry. Research and data collection are also necessary to move the industry forward. If Jamaica wants to advance an inclusive tourism destination, proper data must be collected from tourism events to help analyse the industry’s contribution to national growth as well as how to structure the sectors to achieve efficiency.