KINGSTON, JAMAICA – Africa is being eyed as the next big source market for tourists to Jamaica as the local industry seeks to diversify beyond traditional markets in North America and Europe.
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, told Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday which was hosting a delegation from Nigeria’s Parliament, “something new is emerging, a new caucus is being considered in tourism with Africa and the Caribbean in terms of tourism caucus.”
Bartlett disclosed after seeing economic demand for travel to Jamaica typically falling in the last week.
The economic demand has been falling following a warning from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to U.S. residents about travelling to the island because of the third wave of COVID-19.
Bartlett and his team seek to carefully secure additional bookings from those markets. He indicates that the plan is to reduce dependence on any one source market by bringing the country’s tourism product to new people including those in Africa.
“The considerable discussion has already started”, adding that the process is now moving to the establishment of a Caribbean African Tourism Forum “to open MOUs and collaboration between African tourism partners and the Caribbean. It will open air connectivity and the African markets which is 1.3 billion people as a new source market for the Caribbean. Constructive discussions start with Kenya, and it is expected to broaden to the rest of Africa.” Bartlett held those discussions in Kenya during an official visit this past June.
The tourism minister points to the inaugural chartered flight from Lagos, Nigeria, in December as an excellent start to direct air connectivity between Jamaica and the African continent.
He, however, said issues including visa requirements and the COVID-19 pandemic have slowed progress beyond that initial flight.
The visa issue was raised in the recent inaugural African-Caricom Summit with Gaston Browne — the chairman of Caricom, calling for “all visa requirements that obtain today should be abolished” for extensive travel between the Caribbean and Africa.
Mia Mottley, prime minister of Barbados, also made the call for the “establishment of regular weekly direct flights between Africa and Caricom, even if we have to subsidise initially”.
But tourism is not the only area of economic cooperation being pushed between Africa and the Caribbean.
Rupert Lewis, professor emeritus and former lecturer of political thought in the Department of Government at the University of the West Indies, Mona, echoing sentiments relayed by Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda. Kagame in a terse address said while Africa and the Caribbean “have a lot to offer each other”, they must seek to find common ground “where our interest aligns”.
Lewis said the 54 African countries and 15 Caricom countries must find where those interests carefully align if co-operation is to be fostered for the economic benefit of the two regions.
Both regions should look to coordinate to deal with China which has developed separate programmes for all 69 countries in Africa and Caricom, said Lewis.
Earlier this month local business leaders with economic interests in Africa have adequately expressed support for Prime Minister Andrew Holness’ call for CARICOM countries to strengthen their bond with the continent.
Holness made the call while addressing an inaugural CARICOM-Africa Summit, which was held virtually.
“For Jamaica, there is potential in the agro-industry and logistics sector, and Jamaican companies have already invested in Africa.
Opportunities also exist for scientific research and collaboration, investment in healthcare, technological innovation and digitisation, as well as in the creative economy,” Holness said.
“In relation to development financing, debt sustainability, and climate change, our cooperation within the OACPS (Organisation of African, Caribbean and Pacific States), Commonwealth, UN (United Nations), and WTO (World Trade Organisation) remains a strong foundation for deepening integration between us,” he added, noting that the Africa Continental Free Trade Area creates an enabling environment for the flow of investment and tourism.
GraceKennedy Group (GK) CEO Don Wehby, whose food and financial services conglomerate has invested heavily, with products being distributed in Ghana since 2014 through its subsidiary GraceKennedy Ghana Limited, unanimously backs the call.
All eyes are on Africa the motherland as the next big tourism market.