Deputy Chairman of Sandals Resorts International Adam Stewart took the opportunity at the Mayberry Investor Forum at the AC Marriott in Kingston, Wednesday night (Sept 25) to extol the virtues of linkages in the Jamaican tourism industry.
As the special guest speaker, he noted the growth in world tourism, pointing out that people the world over travel more so than they ever did before in search of culture and organic experiences.
“Tourism and in particular the hotel industry never stops. All things well barring a hurricane or natural disaster, you launch a hotel and for the rest of its life it is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Stewart.
Appointed CEO of Sandals at 25, Stewart observed that hotels are machines that perpetually consume and that they will do what they have to, to survive, sourcing fruits, vegetables, manufactured goods etc to meet their guests’ demands.
“Hotels play a vital role in purchasing local goods and creating economic wealth. When I was appointed as Chairman of the Tourism Linkages Council my only demand was that the Minister of Tourism Ed Bartlett gives me a board of superstars and that he did. You need three things to work together to make tourism successful – shopping, entertainment and gastronomy. The two main parts of linkages as far as Jamaican tourism is concerned are agriculture and manufacturing,” said Stewart.
He drew attention to the adversarial relationship that existed for decades between the industry and the drivers of tourism, with the manufacturing sector and the brains of the tourism industry resident in Kingston while the earnings were made on the north coast.
“You would think that we were continents apart. We have now got a lot smarter realising that we have to get together and support each other,” said the young Sandals Deputy Chairman.
He went on to say that Jamaican tourism is booming at a time when the economic fortunes of the country have taken a turn for the better.
‘I never thought I would see in my lifetime the unemployment rate at single digits.’— Adam Stewart
“I never thought I would see in my lifetime the unemployment rate at single digits. It now stands at 7.8 per cent and throughout my years it hovered around 18 per cent. We now have US$3 billion in foreign reserves. And the IMF’s Christine Lagarde is talking about Jamaica as the poster child for how to turn around an economy. We now have low-interest rates, something you expect to see in America, not in Jamaica.
“So with this confluence of events how do we enter the tourism space?
This year we will see 4.3 million visitors come to Jamaica. This will earn us US$3.67 billion, a 10.9 per cent increase in net earnings year over year. We need to create experiences for our visitors that see them spending money in Jamaica and leaving it here,” declared Stewart who is also CEO of the ATL Group of Companies.
Addressing the packed audience he went on to say that Jamaicans are good storytellers and talk up a situation and that in many instances should exhibit a better understanding of the Jamaican tourism industry. He cited a study commissioned by the Linkages Committee which revealed that just 8 per cent of visitors coming to Jamaica come for gastronomy.
“One way to look at that is there is a 92 per cent opportunity. Jerk is something we know and do very well but as a destination, we are not France or Italy. People don’t travel here at this point in time for gastronomy, yet we have an awesome story with it,” Stewart pointed out.
‘Jamaica has a lot of things going for it that others don’t have.’— Adam Stewart
Stewart said Jamaica as a destination is fabulous and blessed with natural beauty. “Jamaica has a lot of things going for it that others don’t have – mountains, rivers, beautiful beaches, reggae music, international sporting stars. We punch above our weight. People are fascinated by this little island. What other destination do you know that is an island with a population of 3 million that can tick as many boxes as we can? Yet the number one hurdle that is slowing us down and retarding our growth and preventing us from getting 5 million visitors a year, is crime,” he added.
He took the opportunity to praise Jamaican tourism workers, lauding them as the best in the English-speaking Caribbean.
‘If you don’t believe in the people of Jamaica, it is not them, it is you.’— Adam Stewart
He expounded: “Sandals has hotels in seven Caribbean countries and I can tell you that our workers in Jamaica are the hardest-working in the English-speaking Caribbean. If you don’t believe in the people of Jamaica, it is not them, it is you! It’s your training programmes, lack of vision, inability to take them out of the tough situations they are in. At Sandals, we have been able to take people from very shallow and sheltered backgrounds and turn them into some of the highest performing hospitality experts in the world.
“What is special about Jamaica is the individuality of its people which you see in the flair of our culture; so when we turn it on, we can make it unbelievable and attractive to people travelling here for experiences. We believe in linkages and we believe at the Ministry of Tourism that we can achieve 5 million visitors and US$5 million in net earnings for the country of Jamaica.”