Jamaica evokes in the Indian mind visions of cricket and reggae. Chris Gayle is the cricketing icon of the day, and the memory of Bob Marley, the reggae superstar, still lingers. And to the travel junkie it might even mean the sea and the sunny beaches. But for Donovan White, director, tourism, Jamaica Board of Tourism, the island country is cricket, reggae and the beaches, but it is also more than all these. In an exclusive interview with Namaste Bharat’s Parsa Venkateshwar Rao Jr from Dubai, where he was at the Jamaica pavilion at Expo 2020, White gently points out that the seaside and beaches are just 25 percent of what Jamaica has to offer as a tourist destination. He thinks that food is an important factor, especially the Indian element, and the traditional wedding. A marketing leader in Jamaica who has led major advertising and marketing houses in the country, White has been pushing hard for use of technology to make Jamaica the queen of Caribbean tourism ever since he took over as director, tourism, in 2018. It is under his stewardship that tourist arrivals in Jamaica touched four million in 2019. Excerpts from the interview:
How has been the response to the Jamaica pavilion at Expo 2020?
It has been pleasurable. The tenor of interaction at the Jamaica pavilion about Jamaica’s storied history of music, culture and personalities has been extremely heartwarming. There are 800 footfalls every day at the pavilion.
Do you see it as a good sign, signalling that in the post-Covid period, tourism will come back to normal levels?
We expect full recovery in the tourism and travel sector by the end of 2023 and early 2024.
Has Jamaica’s economic growth been affected?
The direct contribution of tourism is eight percent, and if we include it, it is a third of the GDP. Yes, it (Covid) has impacted the economy. But there is a steady recovery. By the end of this year, the earnings will be 60 percent to 65 percent of earnings of the pre-Covid period, and the earnings would be 75 percent to 80 percent by the end of next year.
Does this give you time to rethink and re-envision what the tourism sector could be for Jamaica?
We remain true to our tried and tested means. We get 65 percent to 70 percent of our business from North America with 40 percent being from Canada, and 12 percent from the United Kingdom. And we will continue to build on the back of that. We will continue to look at how to drive new marketplaces into our space, particularly India, the entire region, and China.
To what extent would India figure in your plans? Do a lot of Indians living in the United States travel to Jamaica?
There are a few arrivals from Indians living in the United States and Canada. But as we make a deeper dive, we want Indians from the subcontinent, the relatives, to join their families in the Caribbean, and explore the proper Caribbean.
To what extent do music and cricket, the two big things, that connect India to Jamaica, play a role?
Sport has always been a big factor. We have a super sporting icon like Chris Gayle.
Many Indian travellers have become more adventurous, and they have been venturing to take cruises in the Bahamas.
Would you want to attract some of those travellers to Jamaica?
We are competitive. We are not looking to disrupt the flow to the Bahamas or to anywhere else, as a matter of fact. We are looking to bring more people to Jamaica and have a fair share of the market.
What are the things that Jamaica has to offer to make it attractive for an Indian traveller? Beaches? Cruises? What else?
Beaches account for only 25 percent of the product. We have a diverse culture, especially food. The delicacies are akin to Indian food, and people from India will enjoy the spices. Forty percent of the spending of tourists is on food. And weddings. We take pride in the wedding services we offer, and that is what Indians look for.
So, you would like to make Jamaica an ideal wedding destination for well-off Indians?
Given the long haul, are there flight facilities from India to Jamaica?
We are working on it. There are discussions on at the Expo and we will make an announcement. But there are existing routes over Europe and over the United States for those flying out from India to Jamaica.