Tourism officials are being criticised for what has been deemed a “piecemeal” approach to marketing the island’s tourism product.
The recent announcement by the tourism ministry of plans to segment the industry into several niche packages such as faith-based tourism, community-based tourism, sports tourism and heritage tourism have not found favour with world heritage scholar and consultant Dr Janice Lindsay, who insists this approach will not work.
“We’re really going on a dangerous path when we fragment the thing and are trying to create those niches and sub-niches, because we don’t need to do it and we don’t have the money to do it,” she argued in a recent interview with the Sunday Observer.
“You think we have the luxury of marketing all the different kinds of niches? We’re fragmenting the thing too much, and we’re not even working the fragments… it’s not smart marketing,” Lindsay added.
Dr Lindsay said the Government should market the local product as one entity with diverse elements, and push that as the total heritage tourism experience.
“Why not focus on the one thing that we can package and say, ‘this is who we are?’,” she asked. “Who we are is captured in our cultural heritage. Look at the wonderful things we have to share… That’s the pitch, tell the people this is what we have and it continues to grow, it’s evolving.”
Dr Lindsay, who holds a PhD in World Heritage Studies from the University of Tsukuba in Japan, said as a people, Jamaicans tend to think of heritage as being ‘lightweight’, not realising how much demand there is across the world for all things Jamaican.
“It’s not business as usual when you talk about heritage tourism; you can’t treat it the same way you treat mainstream tourism. It’s a serious, serious business because it’s not just now about economics, you have to think about balancing, how you’re going to put people’s lives, people’s identity out there without destroying it,” she said.
According to Dr Lindsay, where heritage tourism is concerned, Jamaica is the envy of many developed and developing countries, as “the spirit of community in our little country is vast”.
Her call for more attention to be paid to selling Jamaica as a premier heritage destination is not new. Over the years, heritage tourism enthusiasts have called on successive administrations to push heritage tourism as a viable alternative to sun, sea and sand.
Successive governments have been criticised for not doing enough to develop the concept, especially on the island’s south coast, since Jamaica is no longer unique for its sun, sea and sand.
News came recently that Jamaica almost missed its opportunity to have the Blue and John Crow mountains placed on the prestigious World Heritage Centre Listing because there was a financial setback in sending representatives to a crucial Paris meeting reviewing which sites across the world were to be added to the listing.
A team was eventually sent off to the meeting a few days after it got underway.
There are differing views among some local sector players as to how much push should be given to heritage tourism as a distinctive and separate tourism product, as opposed to it being a part of the community tourism thrust.
Jamaican-based international community tourism consultant Diana McIntyre-Pike believes heritage tourism should be seen as an element of community tourism, while head of the Manchester Parish Development Committee Sam Miller believes heritage tourism, if rightly developed, could be a major driving force for the economy, as Jamaica is sitting on what he calls a “heritage gold mine”.
But Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is pushing ahead with his ministry’s focus on different elements of the industry. The latest thrust is towards faith-based tourism which targets visitors interested in a religious experience.
Recently, the island welcomed over 4,000 visitors from the cruise ship Carnival Destiny, which docked in Montego Bay. The passengers, including religious leaders and music ministers, participated in several community outreach projects in schools and correctional institutions across the island.
In January this year, the ministry signed a US$15-million contract with the Jamaica Social Investment Fund to establish a community-based tourism policy. The World Bank and Government of Jamaica-funded policy is expected to roll out over the next six years.
In 2009, Bartlett said besides Cuba and Puerto Rico “there is no other Caribbean island which can boast a wealth of cultural heritage to outpace Jamaica”.
At the time, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation had said the international heritage market generated more than 160 million trips each year.