Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, co-chair and founder of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre explains why the centre was launched and the work it has been doing.
LetsTravelCaribbean.com: Why was there a need to establish the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre?
Edmund Bartlett: We were the visionary because we saw that tourism was vulnerable, as it is resilient. So we had to take steps to build capacity to respond to what we call global disruptions that have impacted the energy and vitality of tourism, in a number of places. The last 50 years, there have been 12 or so major global disruptions that have affected tourism. And I think the four or five most celebrated of which was SARS, which is the precursor to COVID-19. And then there was 911, which impacted transport and travel across the world. And then there was the economic downturn in 2008 that impacted the economies of the world and significantly reduced tourism and travel. And then, of course, there is this pandemic now, which was potentially the most existential of them all.
Now, on a smaller scale, we in the Caribbean have been vulnerable to climatic events, hurricanes. In 2017, we had two of the most devastating hurricanes that the century has seen— and arguably, the world has seen. The impact of it was to destroy an entire island, Barbuda; 98 per cent of the GDP of Dominica, and significant destruction to several other islands, including Puerto Rico. The intensity of the winds in that country, as recorded, was like the earthquake as reported by some of the residents. So what we were seeing now is the increase in the intensity of these weather events.
Then we had seismic events, earthquakes that continue to happen in the Americas in particular, but certainly in our own neighbourhood. Haiti had two significant earthquakes in the last 30 years, one which measured nearly nine on the Richter scale, the effect of which was to destroy a huge part of Port of Prince.
The recovery process has been weak, if not anaemic, and that’s been a concern. So out of a conference that we had in Jamaica in 2017, put on by the United Nations World Tourism Organization and Jamaica, in commemoration of the World Tourism Sustainability Year, we determined that three critical things should emerge from that conference. One was to look at how to deal with building resilience and crisis management capabilities. Second was how to build the small and medium tourism enterprises, how to give them greater capacity and enable them to unleash the power of their creativity to the benefit of their own economic well-being and that of the countries that they operate in. And thirdly, to look at multi destination tourism as a strategy for creating greater flows of visitors in Small Island States, such as us in the Caribbean, that are highly tourism dependent but are weakly resourced. So the first item on the agenda I took on very strong was the establishment of a Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre. When I conceptualised the idea with [the centre’s Executive Director] Professor [Lloyd] Waller here, most people thought that this was a pipe dream. They thought it was something that a Small Island State like Jamaica couldn’t do. Many people thought that it was impossible for you to influence the world in any way from a little place like Jamaica, in terms of a global response to an idea which had not yet had currency.
Because the world was focused on sustainability, and the big buzz to the multilaterals was about sustainability and how we could provide resources to mitigate the impact particularly of climate change, so as to retain the status of planet Earth. But with the advent of COVID-19, the world has changed its view, not totally, but towards an appreciation that to achieve sustainability, you must be resilient. So it gave a level of energy to our own efforts. We established the first centre at The University of the West Indies here in Mona, and then went on to do the second one at the Kenyatta University in Kenya. Within three months after we established the Kenya centre, the world had declared a pandemic, the likeness of which Earth had not seen.
“Over the last three years, we’ve established six centres across the world. And we have another four to do over the next few months. As we complete this year, we should have 10 tourism resilience centres, all connected with this one that we have here in Jamaica.
We already have one at George Brown College in Canada; at the Florida International University, in Florida; at the Beaumont University in London; the University of the Middle East, in Jordan; and, of course, here in Jamaica. Then we have Botswana to come, Namibia, Rwanda. In November, when I go to Saudi Arabia, we expect to establish one there in Jeddah, and we will be also talking with Nigeria and South Africa.
I should mention also the Maldives, because the president of the General Assembly of the UN was here last week, and we had extensive discussions on this. He is going to be returning to his substantive post as foreign minister of the Maldives. I know the minister there, we have been in conversation and it is very important for a centre to be established in the Maldives, so as to cover the Indian Ocean rim, which is very susceptible to climate change, especially the Maldives itself, which is pretty much operating like a mini you know, Atlantis at the moment. So we see that the world has now responded to this imperative of building capacity to: one, forecast disruptions. So an observatory is one of the outcomes from this centre, in terms of our own activity chart. The second is to mitigate the impact of these disruptions, then to manage them when they come and then to recover from them, and to recover quickly. And finally, to thrive after recovering.
The most difficult of all these five is to thrive, because in most cases, and even some of the most resilient countries of the world like Japan, thriving has been a challenge. Because you rarely recover sufficiently to where you were before the disruption, albeit to grow and thrive thereafter.
So we have determined that what is needed then is a level of academic rigor is to get young people across the world to be focusing on how to add value, how to innovate, how to be able to pivot and to adapt to these changes that are taking place. How do you use the technology now, that is there, the digital technology— the knowledge age, as we call it— to enable value added, to be able to respond faster and quicker; to survive, and grow and save planet Earth.
Professor Waller and the team here at the university have been working assiduously at this. We’ve had a number of publications, the most celebrated of which is our book, co-authored by myself and Professor Waller, on tourism resilience and recovery, for global sustainability and development. The book sought to take us through the navigation of COVID-19; to look at how Jamaica was able to navigate this process, and to recover the way that we have.
So we are excited about the prospect now, of the UN, declaring Global Tourism Resilience Day. In February of this year, we were in Dubai at the Expo. And we had the first ever global forum on resilience, which the centre co-sponsored, along with the international tourism investment conference, the world travel awards, and the Global Tourism Resilience Council, which operates out of the UK. Together we had this very successful forum. We declared, then, that there will be a global tourism resilience day to be commemorated on the 17th of February every year, starting February 2023. That observation will be held here in Jamaica, at The University of the West Indies, at our centre and then we will beam across the world to a number of countries, mostly those that already have centres but certainly any other that wish to participate in the event.”
“The success has been in terms of even our own recovery here in Jamaica, because the establishment of the resilient corridor, for example, which was the critical innovation, that created the bubble, that gave Jamaica that level of confidence in the marketplace, and assurance of safety and protection for people who came here was born out of the idea of the resilience centre.
When I came up with the idea, and the Prime Minister [Andrew Holness] himself was a key part of that process, it was because we were doing this resilience activity at the university. So to understand what it meant to build resilience, and then to enable the creation of a geographical space, where that kind of response can be had, where we could now be looking at what are the key touch points to build capacity to respond, and respond quickly, to the pandemic that was happening. So, yes, we see that as one of the real practical successes from the centre in Jamaica.”