Jamaica will be the site of the first ever Global Conference on Tourism Development and Sustainability to be organized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). The Conference is scheduled for December 2017 at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.
According to Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, the Conference will be the first ever event that will bring together both the private and public sector arms of the UNWTO. Jamaica is expecting tourism ministers and secretaries from 157 countries as well as at least 500 representatives from global companies in the tourism industry.
2017 is the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development.
The UNWTO is yet to release its agenda for the upcoming Conference. However, according to Bartlett, “[T]he development agencies of the UN will also be here in those discussions to look at the future of tourism and the development strategies that must go hand in hand with that.”
This upcoming Conference on tourism could not come at a better time. The UN has recently declared the year 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. This UN declaration aims to promote the contribution and effect of tourism towards global economic, environmental, and social sustainability. At the same time, the declaration is supposed to create awareness of the areas in the tourism industry that are considered to be undervalued.
The declaration highlights the role of tourism as a tool for implementing three of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) approved by the UN General Assembly in September 2015. These specific SDGs are:
- Sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for everyone
- Sustainable consumption and production
- Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas, and marine resources for sustainable development
The scheduled Conference can address definitively the serious impact that tourism has on the environment on a global level, as well as environmental factors that can affect tourism on a worldwide scale. One example is the situation faced by the Great Barrier Reef, which is currently in dire condition and facing death due to global warming. The Great Barrier Reef is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near the coast of Queensland, Australia that covers an area of 133,000 square miles. It is home to at least 400 coral species, which in turn provides food and shelter for thousands of species of marine and bird life.
The conference can also shine a spotlight on Caribbean tourism concerns.
Bartlett also expressed excitement for the upcoming UN Conference, calling it a chance for Jamaica to shine on the world stage. “This is an opportunity for gastronomy, for the health and wellness network, particularly for the entertainment and music side to really shine, because Jamaica’s food will be on display,” said Jamaica’s tourism minister.
According to the Jamaica Tourism Board, Jamaica received around 2.12 million stopover arrivals in 2015. Around 75.6% of these tourists come to Jamaica to enjoy the beaches and the recreational activities available. Tourism generated a gross income of approximately US$2.4 billion in 2015, leading to an increase of 11.6% in tourism-related employment in the country. The growing tourism industry in Jamaica has prompted airlines such as Jet Blue, American Airlines, and Southwest Airlines to expand their Jamaica operations. The Jamaica Tourism Board additionally reported expansions to existing hotels in the country.
The upcoming Conference can also put the spotlight on the number of issues Jamaica and other Caribbean countries are facing today, according to an article published on Travel Trade Caribbean (TTC). Jamaica is said to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world in terms of crime, as implied by a USA Today report and as directly stated by Lloyd B. Smith, a Jamaican member of parliament. TTC also mentioned other tourism threats, such as poverty in the Caribbean nations, the growing divide between the rich and the poor, and the increasing prevalence of contagious diseases such as the Zika virus. TTC stated the interim time before the Conference will not be enough to solve these issues.