Jamaica is a land with many riches and quite a few rich people. However, the country remains desperately poor. It is a land where the biggest net earner is probably the illegal drugs and black market trade followed by remittances, then tourism. We are a people who are, in short, dependent on the grace of others for our food.
This is made all the clearer when one gets to understand that the vast majority of the major hotels, which are the major money, see their profits going abroad as the majority stakeholders have no real ties to Jamaica (infrastructure excluded of course).
That is not a good place for any nation to find itself. It simply cannot continue as such without a massive breakdown, which would result in a state of living which we cannot even begin to fathom. Something has to give!
The odds of the drug trade and the black market becoming legal or beneficial to all are remote, and the thought of telling remittance senders that their monies sent to families will now be used for the broader public is insane, so that leaves us with the tourism sector as the only viable sector which could benefit many if not all Jamaicans directly and positively.
A good way to start is to make the push away from the all-inclusive hotel model which we have been mastering for the past 30 years. This model, which has been noted in countless articles, not only acts as a way to alienate both the tourist from the local but also the local from the tourist. It breeds a caricature of the local culture and ensures that the visitors are seen as mere interlopers who are here to poke fun at us. Rather than the all-inclusive, we should be aiming to see the tourist leave the hotel and experience the true Jamaica (be it live events, sports, etc) this way the tourist dollar will flow to the masses.
Apart from what can be called ‘community tourism’, steps can and are being taken as the nation looks to fully retain the tourist dollar. Two such areas are the realms of food and culture. Food is a very obvious area in which we all could enjoy the net benefits of tourism and in more ways than farmers selling produce to the all-inclusive hotels. If we encourage our visitors to leave the hotel compounds and say explore Portland or St Mary, then they would hit upon not only the local farmer but also the local restaurant owner and street food seller.
Culture is also an area in which the masses could easily benefit from the tourist dollar while the tourist experiences what Jamaica is actually like. Sports, dance, film, music, religion and language are all spheres in which the bulk of the Jamaican population could benefit from what is clearly the biggest legitimate money spinner in the land.
The biggest step which we need to take however is ensuring that the state retains a sizable cut of the tourism earnings. That is, in plain talk, a decent amount of money must remain in Jamaica and in the state coffers, regardless of the nationality of the hotel owner. Such a step could ensure that even if we fail to make good on the community and gastronomical tourism, the nation would still gain the benefits of having these tourists pass through our island. The state could, for example, mandate that a certain percentage of ownership remains with them or that a certain amount of profits remain on the island.
The real game-changer, however, would be if the Government mandated that they retain a certain amount of the profits while investing it in the form of a sovereign wealth fund. This fund could be used along the lines of the successful one in Norway to fix all our roads, fund ‘free healthcare’ or anything else one can imagine as this fund, unlike the Norwegian, would not have an expiry date as tourists are constant while oil is most finite.
Jamaicans on a whole has lost out on the supposed boon, which was mining. We have gained little on the credit side while the debits mount up in the shape of scarred mountains, empty mines re-filled and left useless and poison in our waters. Tourism is the one area in which we can ensure that we as Jamaicans benefit from something taking place on this island and as such we should press the state to take advantage of it.
This, however, must not end like the bauxite levy or the numerous gas levies which have never been used for their intended purpose, or worse the NHT which now acts as the state’s piggy bank when financial emergencies occur.
We must push our legislators to enact laws that not only ensure that profits from the tourist industry remain on the island and are invested, but that monies cannot be used for anything else without the approval of a House majority.
The tourism industry as it operates now benefits a select few locals while the majority of the profits go abroad. In many ways, it is run along the lines of the mining industry where the employees are the sole beneficiaries and that must change in a nation which depends on tourism in the way we do. The proceeds from this industry must be used for the upliftment of all in this nation.
We the people must demand as much, as it is currently the only industry in this nation that has the potential to better our collective lot.