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Eyes on Africa: Jamaica turns to continent as next big tourism market

Africa map with ethnic motifs pattern

Africa is being eyed as the next big source market for tourists to Jamaica as the industry seeks to diversify beyond traditional markets in North America and Europe.

Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister, made the disclosure to the Jamaica Observer from Texas, United States, where he was with a delegation aimed at shoring up the North American source market. Bartlett has travelled to that country and will also visit Canada to help secure visitors and airline seats to the country after seeing demand for travel to Jamaica falling in the last week. The demand has been falling following a warning from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to US residents about travelling to the island because of the third wave of heightened infections of the novel coronavirus disease.

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett (Photo: JIS)

But even as Bartlett and his team seek to 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.

“Something new is emerging. A new caucus is being considered in tourism with Africa and the Caribbean in terms of a tourism caucus,” Bartlett told Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday which was hosting a delegation from Nigeria’s Parliament. The delegation was led by Yusuf Baba, the chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs in Nigeria.

Asked to expound on the efforts by the Caribbean Business Report, Bartlett said, “the 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. Discussions start with Kenya and it is expected to broaden to the rest of Africa.” Bartlett held those discussions in Kenya during a visit this past June.

The tourism minister points to the inaugural chartered flight from Lagos, Nigeria, in December as a start to direct air connectivity between Jamaica and the African continent. He, however, said issues including visa requirement and the novel coronavirus 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, the regional trading bloc made up of 15 Caribbean territories — calling for “all visa requirements that obtain today should be abolished” for 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”.

Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley has called for the “establishment of regular weekly direct flights between Africa and Caricom, even if we have to subsidise initially”. (File photo)

But tourism is not the only area of co-operation 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 interest align if co-operation is to be fostered for the economic benefit of the two regions. Lewis said both regions should look to coordinate to deal with China which has developed separate programmes for all 69 countries in Africa and Caricom.

Baba, in addressing Jamaica’s Parliament on Tuesday, also said, “we are also interested in promoting relations in the area of oil and gas…and we are sure in the very short time it will yield a lot of fruit.” It is not clear at the moment what format that new oil and gas relationship will take. Jamaica’s agreement with Nigeria surrounding oil has been suspended.