Recently, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Ed Bartlett, published an article in a Jamaican newspaper calling for the island to look “more seriously at diasporic tourism for accelerating investments in the country’s tourism product.” This is such an excellent idea. One wonders why the minister is placing it in a newspaper, rather than making a submission to the Cabinet of his government so the idea can be discussed and, most likely, translated into policy.
With over an estimated three million Jamaicans living overseas, mostly in the USA, the United Kingdom, and Canada, the diaspora provides an excellent market for the island’s goods and services.
It is often wondered why more thrust isn’t given by Jamaica’s public and private sectors in including the diaspora into their trading plans. While a variety of the island’s products, mostly food and drinks, are exported to the U.S., UK, and Canada, these goods are usually brought in by importers and distributers not related to the diaspora.
But this is not a Jamaican issue. The onus is also on the diaspora to be more engaged in establishing strong trading links with the homeland.
Obviously, Minister Bartlett realizes the Jamaican diasporic market has the potential to help fill the yawning gap COVID restrictions have created in the island’s tourism market.
Whether they left the homeland decades ago or more recently, Jamaicans in the diaspora yearn to return home not only to visit family and friends, but also to indulge in the highly touted tourism experience.
Despite the current travel inconveniences, members of the diaspora still visited Jamaica and stayed in hotels allowed to accept overseas visitors. Many more people are willing to visit as tourists should the government make it more convenient and affordable.
We’re not suggesting the Jamaican government should compromise its efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus by giving a free pass to members of the diaspora to visit the island. But, there are several policies that can be implemented to make it less complicated to travel home.
For one, diaspora members who have been fully vaccinated should be considered for travel to Jamaica as tourists or to visit relatives, without the restrictions those who are not vaccinated must endure.
The risk of COVID-19 repercussions to Jamaican tourism and Jamaica, in general, would be significantly mitigated if visiting Jamaica were less complicated for those who have been vaccinated.
Another way to attract the diaspora and boost tourism would be for the Jamaican government and hotel owners to agree on special, affordable visitor packages. Annual average incomes among the Jamaican diaspora are middle-class incomes. So, even with improved accessibility to visit the island, despite COVID-19 restrictions, not many people would be able to afford the high rates charged by most all-inclusive hotels.
And, there is planning needed within the diaspora too. It would help if diasporic groups are formed to liaise with the Jamaican public and private sectors in streamlining mutually accepted policies for diasporic visits to Jamaica.
As Minister Bartlett outlined in his article, the diaspora can play a major role in the development of the Jamaican economy other than being tourists. “The indicators suggest that Diaspora members do not return home merely for sun and relaxation, but also to invest and do business, to improve education, to establish a new home, to attend festivals or family events, such as weddings or funerals, and, especially in the case of second and third generations, to find out more about Caribbean heritage and lineage.”
It is primarily first-generation Jamaicans in the diaspora who are intent on visiting the homeland. A mutual effort is needed between Jamaica and the diaspora to motivate and mobilize second- and third-generation Jamaicans in the diaspora to visit and invest in the island.
It is often said the Jamaican diaspora is a potential ‘gold mine’ to the homeland. But other than the lucrative financial remittance flows to Jamaica, the potential of this gold mine is not being fully realized. The diaspora unquestionably comprises a very potent market for Jamaican goods and services.
While the tourism sector agonizes over the losses created by COVID, solutions do exist in tapping into the resources of the Jamaican diaspora as a new, formidable tourism market.
Now, over to you, Minister Bartlett, to begin implementing your excellent idea.