The message emerging from the Invest Jamaica 2022 business conference could not have been clearer – Jamaica is open for business, and it is very eager to get it.
Government officials as well as local and foreign investors told the story of a country that handled the Covid-19 pandemic well and is coming out of it stronger than before.
“The Jamaican economy is buoyant as the government managed to tackle Covid-19 without raising taxes, not for people or investors,” said Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce Aubyn Hill during his keynote speech.
“Consumer and investor confidence has increased dramatically, and our country is open to investors across all sectors,” he added.
General manager of the country department of the Caribbean group at the Inter-American Development Bank, Tariq Alli, agreed that the headlines figures for Jamaica are healthy and appealing to foreign investors.
“Jamaica’s gross domestic product grew by 4.6% in 2021 and the International Monetary Fund reported that the unemployment rate has dropped to pre-pandemic levels,” he told the audience.
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The call to action and the strongest messages of confidence from the government came from the Minister of Finance and the Public Service, Nigel Clarke, and the Prime Minister himself, Andrew Holness.
“Jamaica suffered a 10% contraction during the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it has experienced a rapid recovery since,” Clarke told the audience. “We are just shy of pre-pandemic levels in terms of economic output and our unemployment rate has dropped to pre-Covid levels.”
The minister said that one of the examples of Jamaica’s ability to get projects off the ground is the four-lane, 60km highway public-private partnership (PPP) that is being co-funded by the International Finance Corporation.
“This is an $800m [J$122.56bn] PPP project. Our aim is to start attracting $1bn projects going forward. Jamaica will be the break-out investment story of the 21st century,” he concluded.
However, it was Prime Minister Holness who set out Jamaica’s investment ambitions for the future. “We have changed our business DNA to a country that believes in a steady fiscal policy,” he said.
“Jamaica is one of the top ten tourism destinations in the world. We want to make Jamaica one of the top ten places to invest in globally. We want to make Jamaica an efficient place to make business in by reducing bureaucracy and transforming it into a digital society,” he added.
Tourism recovery story shows Jamaica’s strengths
While not an emerging sector in Jamaica, tourism serves as a good example of the country’s recovery in the post-Covid-19 pandemic era. Holness made sure to stress this as he reminded the audience that the tourism sector is back to pre-pandemic levels, and more.
“Our tourism industry is booming,” he said, adding that several hotels are being built in Jamaica at the moment.
His claims were supported by Shulette Cox, vice-president of the research, advocacy and project implementation division at local investment promotion agency Jampro.
“As of October 2022, Jamaica’s tourism sector has comfortably returned to its pre-pandemic levels,” she said. “From June to September 2022, we saw a 30% increase in new arrivals and a 50% increase in expenditure.”
During a panel on the future of global tourism and Jamaica’s role within it, government authorities and local and foreign business leaders gave an account of the hardship that the sector endured during the pandemic and their hopes for the future.
One of the ways forward for tourism in Jamaica is to make it greener and more sustainable to face the challenge posed by climate change.
Senator Matthew Samuda, Minister Without Portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, put a strong emphasis on this topic during the talk.
“The challenges that we faced pre-Covid-19, which include environmental degradation and the impact of climate change, have not subsided,” he said. “The tourism industry is both a contributor and one of the industries at greatest risk of climate change and environmental degradation; and when you look at the current rate of emissions, environmental degradation and pollution, with the economic recovery we are seeing globally, it is actually picking up pace.”
Samuda pointed out that protecting Jamaica’s natural reserves from the destructive effects of pollution is key to maintaining its appeal to visitors.
“We have to invest in a way that understands that our footprint cannot continue at this rate of degradation, because at the end of the day, sea levels rising will eat our beaches, and sewage discharge will destroy our reefs and fish populations,” he said. “We have been selling sun, sand and sea for the past three decades, so we need to protect that sun, sand and sea.”
The government focus on the issue is widely backed by business leaders in the sector.
Adam Stewart, the executive chairman of Sandals Resorts International, echoed the minister’s words, reporting that consumers are paying increasing attention to green and environmentally friendly ways of travelling.
“There is no question that the consumer today is demanding more, regarding a lighter [carbon] footprint across the board,” he said. “They want to see the companies that they are doing business with doing more, and having a solid environmental platform in place is good business.
“If we lose the natural environment, be it the mountains, the rivers, the sand, the sea, or the beaches, we are in a sea of sameness with the rest of the world. We will always have our people, the most fascinating part of the culture, but the gifts that we were given that drive consumers and create consumer demand to come to this part of the world revolve around the natural beauty and the people, and around those two things colliding.”
While challenges remain, they can be seen as opportunities to ensure Jamaica’s tourism sector remains the great source of income that it has been so far, and more.