Sustainable Tourism Update - steps, moving forward

No. 59 Friday, February 26, 2010
Jamaica's tourism (or any other industry) will only be truly sustainable when all of its costs - including costs to the society and the environment - are fully and honestly counted, and recovered from those who reap the benefits. Environmental costs have at least been recognized, though up to now there has been only a little recovery.

Two important social costs have been totally overlooked for a long time. First, Jamaicans in tourist areas have lost most of their sea front. Coastal woodlands, wetlands, green spaces and beaches have been chopped down, dug up, filled in, built on and walled off. The Government of Jamaica does mention this as a problem in its long-term plan for tourism development, but suggests that better land use planning will fix it. This seems like locking the barn after the cow has been stolen.
   There is a bit of good news. After decades of neglect and quarreling, the Old Hospital site on Montego Bay's Hip Strip is to be spruced up and kept as a public park. UDC, the owner of the land, had approval for a park in 1995 but other priorities (and attempts to divert the site to commercial development) delayed the start of work until late last year. The project was pushed to the front of the line by the Resort Board and the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and will be financed ­appropriately - by the Tourism Enhancement Fund.
   The modest J$30 million cost will include the basics - toilets, trash cans, lights, walkways and benches plus flowers, fencing and a gazebo and viewing stand for special events. Most importantly, the park will still be free to everyone resident or visitor - who wants to walk by the sea, sit in the shade, or just enjoy a little downtown green space.
   The second unaddressed social cost is lack of housing for tourism workers. A lot of the people who come to tourist centres for jobs can't find a family home to rent, buy or build at a price they can afford. The results include split families, very long bus or taxi rides and the growth of informal settlements, some with dangerously low health and safety standards.
   Over the past year, newspaper headlines suggest that this problem has at least got the attention of people who can do something about it. Rose Hall Developments has contributed land which the Ministry of Water and Housing will develop to provide homes for families of 700"tourism workers in the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay. The Jamaica Redevelopment Foundation wants Government land to build an unspecified number of homes for tourism workers near Grange Pen in the Lilliput area. And the Ministry of Water and Housing will develop 800 lots in the White Hall Housing Scheme at Negril for "low income earners" - which would include most of the area's tourism workers.
   These aren't complete solutions and they won't be quick. Servicing new housing lots - putting in roads, water, sewers and power lines - will take at least two years if it's done right, without causing too much environmental damage. And all of these projects are intended to replace - or maybe to displace - informal settlements. Sorting out title and resettlement issues could cause even more delay.
   Even so, these projects are a very public step in a very useful direction - a commitment for which people can be held responsible. According to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, "It cannot be that whilst we are in elegance along [the Rose Hall tourism] corridor, the people are in hovels that live off it."

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