Reimagining tourism for the future

In the last decade or so, tourism has positioned itself as a critical variable in the development planning space and the development discourse globally. Today businesses, governments, international organizations as well as NGOs have established, or are establishing programs, initiatives and programs to facilitate tourism for development. Academic institutions have also been introducing, organizing or reorganizing ‘tourism’ as an important element of their curriculum. The University of the West Indies is no exception. Through its many courses, centers and institutes, the UWI has been preparing our Caribbean nationals for the expanding opportunities and benefits being presented by the growth of the tourism sector. But we have much more to do.

Tourism and Development

According to the UNTWO, WTTC, CTO, PATA and several other regional and global institutions, tourism has been recognized as that force, which accelerates human development, social and economic inclusiveness, increased entrepreneurship and self-employment, the generation of decent work, environmental sustainability and also support regional integration.

Indeed, the contribution of tourism to both national and regional development continues to be enormous and I dare say unmatched. Firstly, tourism is linked to the notion of a sustainable economy in several ways. The economic indicators show that Caribbean is the most-tourism dependent in the world, tourism is the main economic sector in 16 out of 28 Caribbean states and the total contribution of tourism to employment in the Caribbean is estimated at 2.4 million jobs according to the World Travel and Tourism Annual Report for 2018. In Jamaica tourism employs one in every four persons.

Beyond direct employment tourism and hospitality there are vast indirect opportunities for supplying inputs to tourism enterprises catering to the visitor experience in areas such as accommodations, food and beverage, cultural and creative arts, entertainment and recreation, agriculture, manufacturing, banking and finance and foreign exchange.

Tourism is also linked to the preservation of heritage and culture through the concept of experiential tourism. Most tourists travel to have authentic experiences that require that they partake in activities and consume and acquire products/goods that are indigenous to the countries they travel. Tourism thus helps to preserve natural and cultural resources while generating revenues and incomes for local populations.

To unlock the potential of tourism to contribute to inclusive growth and development our main focus at the Ministry of Tourism is to find innovate ways to reduce economic leakage in the tourism sector and to improve retention. This mandate is already being executed through our Linkages Network which has been coordinating policies and strategies designed to strengthen linkages with other sectors of the economy particularly the agricultural and manufacturing sector, strengthen the benefits derived from the industry by local residents and communities and promote broader participation by nationals.

We however recognize that the competitiveness 0f the Caribbean destinations will significantly rely on how well we prepare our people for the emerging opportunities. If Caribbean destinations are to remain globally-competitive and increase their share of the global tourist market, we must find ways to unlock new sources of competitiveness and comparative advantage.

Traditionally the tourism sector has enjoyed one of the highest rates of labor mobility of any segment of the economy. However, many of the opportunities taken up by our citizens are those that require low skill and offer limited prospect for economic mobility. This fact is largely attributable to the fact that the majority of the tourism-related jobs are deemed to require low to medium-level technical skills. The global tourism market is however becoming increasingly differentiated and segmented. Consequently, the continued growth of Travel & Tourism in the region will depend on the right people with the right skills being available to meet this demand for additional human capital. And we at the MOT have been working to create a paradigm shift in the local tourism space which will see our citizens accessing more substantive jobs and I will discuss this some more in a minute.

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Many trends are impacting the skills needed to perform competently in tourism-related jobs such as digitalization and virtualization, the need for sustainable behaviors & practices, the growth of non-traditional segments, the changing demographics of international travelers (more youthful, more specific), changing lifestyles and consumer demands and the need for data-driven policies. Technology has had a significant impact on tourism-related employment as well as supporting and changing how services are delivered. While technology has downgraded certain skills in the tourism sector it has upgraded other skills, particularly in the areas of marketing, information and communication. Caribbean destinations must recognize the differing preferences of a new generation of younger travelers and the growing importance of online services and marketing, especially through mobile internet. The future of tourism lies in the manipulation and exploitation of ICT capabilities such as big data, big data analytics, machine learning, blockchain technologies, the Internet of Things, robotics etc. We thus need to urgently capitalize on the opportunities for high-skilled employment that are being generated in the ICT-related fields in tourism.

The growth of non-traditional markets in Europe, Asia and Central America will require increased focus on cultural studies and the development of competencies in various foreign languages. The increased focus on data-driven policies to better understand the emerging needs of markets, to analyze trends and to predict future patterns means that tourism development strategy must increasingly emphasize research-based skills. The evolving tourism market will require modern managerial skills that can drive performance improvements in the sector by raising productivity through better staff planning and scheduling, employing new technology and improving employee motivation, thereby reducing staff turnover. Most importantly , we must equip our citizens with the competitive business management and marketing skills that are required to operate successful tourism enterprises in this globalized era.

In the current dispensation, the hospitality sector has to contend with negative perceptions of low wages and the lack of career opportunities beyond entry-level jobs. Studies have found that many university students have a peripheral view of tourism. There is oftentimes scarce information and misconceptions about the skills required as well as the opportunities for career development. National governments must take a lead in developing a long-term workforce development strategy. Ideally, such a strategy would be developed within the broader context of improving the industry’s competitiveness and sustainability, since the increasing demand for skilled labor will continue to present a major challenge in all countries. It is highly recommended that strategies and their implementation should be carried out with the private and education sectors and embrace agreed-upon commitments from the industry.

A robust institutional framework is needed to determine the education and training policies and programs that will support a more attractive labor market and business environment in tourism which will allow the industry to maintain a sufficient and highly-qualified workforce and hence support the enhancement of productivity in the industry. My view is that while formal qualifications are not always required in tourism, their existence, and a widely available opportunity to obtain qualifications and competency development in tourism may contribute to raising the prestige of the occupation and the sector in general.

A study by the WTTC revealed that Travel & Tourism’s human capital challenges are significantly higher than those faced in other sectors with most countries in study projecting to face a talent ‘deficit’ or ‘shortage’ in Travel & Tourism over the next ten years. Talent development will also prevent many high-skilled positions from being filled by migrant workers. Both public and private sector are thus encouraged to act now to address the anticipated talent shortage.

Given the robust nature of UWI’s tourism portfolio which was recently expanded with the recent launch of the region’s first Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre, here at UWI, changes in the tourism space, new instruction technologies, the ever diversifying nature of tourism, it is time for the UWI to reimagine its tourism portfolio and consolidate its programs, courses, institutes, centers, etc. under one roof here in one of the Caribbean’s mecca of tourism (Montego Bay) with the establishment of a school or a faculty of Tourism.

Indeed, UWIs global recognition as a powerful intellectual institution will position the UWI to make an even more substantive contribution to the development of the region through such a Faculty or School. Certainly, this effort would have my support, and, although I cannot speak for my Caribbean counterparts, I am more than certain it would also have the support of the government of the region. More specifically, in keeping with the mandate of the administration that I am apart of, I reiterate my commitment to promoting a sustainable tourism product that advances the well-being of local communities and that incorporates more local talent in the delivery of tourism services.

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