Speaking on the Ministerial panel in Istanbul yesterday, Jamaica Minister of Tourism, Honorable Edmund Bartlett asserted that tourism was but the marketing of culture, as the product visitors consume on their visits to destinations, are the cultural assets of the people.
“Harmony of tourism and culture therefore, is essential for the sustainability of the industry, which is now the fastest growing economic activity globally, representing 10% of global GDP, employing 1:11 of the global workforce and 35% of trade in services,” said the Minister.
Minister Bartlett further stated that over the past 50 years tourism has grown fifty fold from 200 million visitors to 1.2 billion and expenditure growing from US$300 billion to US$1.3 trillion in 2017. This growth trend is projected to continue and will reach 2 billion by 2030 with earnings of US$2.5 trillion dollars according to the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
In addition, some 79 countries have transformed their economic base to tourism with GDP dependence of 10% and over. This means the pressures on cultural products have heightened and the demand for commercialization of local culture increased. This he remarked, while good for economic growth, might be challenging for the preservation and protection of indigenous and authentic cultural patterns.
He warned that the growing tendencies for mass tourism, if not carefully planned and structured, with full involvement of all stakeholders including indigenous people and communities, could lead to the loss of authenticity and a cultural alienation, which would cause social tension and even rejection of tourism.
The Minister reflected on the recent incidence in some tourism centers of Europe, where locals became hostile to tourists, citing among other things, the destruction of their way of life as they knew it and the loss of their sense of place.
“Tourism is a people-centered activity and can only exist if the creative intellectual output of the people are harnessed and converted into material values, which then commands a price.
Consequently, governments and the private sector must collaborate to create a harmony of people and products, by providing the legislative and regulatory framework as well as the financial and marketing arrangements to give space for innovation and entrepreneurship,” said Minister Bartlett.
He indicated that tourism is driven by Small and Medium enterprises, which constitute more the 80% of the experiences and passions people travel the world to consume. However, the irony is that these enterprises receive less than 20% of the benefits of tourism according to recent UNEP reports.
“Something is wrong with that,” he asserted and called for a re-balancing of that anomaly as it is at the heart of the wave of rejection of tourist and tourism in some countries today. Overtourism, he says, is a symptom, which we ignore at our peril.
Concluding, to much applause, the Minister indicated that the cause is not lost as the meeting of UNESCO and UNWTO deliberating on this critical matter and offering experience and innovation will set the tone for a new paradigm and no doubt a new architecture for cultural tourism to create more wealth and prosperity for our people.