Jamaica’s tourism minister calls for united Caribbean voice against vaccine inequity

Edmund Bartlett

KINGSTON, Jamaica — Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, has called on Caribbean leaders to raise their voices collectively against the inequitable distribution of vaccines.

“While one in four people in high-income countries has now been vaccinated against COVID-19, only one in more than 500 people in poorer countries has received a jab. Based on the current trend of vaccine inequity it is estimated that the world’s poorest 92 countries will not be able to reach a vaccination rate of 60 percent of their populations until 2023 or later,” Bartlett lamented.

He was delivering the keynote address during a virtual forum on: “Tourism Diplomacy: Rebuilding Tourism Safely”, hosted by the Tourism Linkages Network (TLN), a division of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). The session was the first in a five-part online forum series, spearheaded by the TLN’s Knowledge Network.

Underscoring the importance of the industry, Bartlett said credible evidence suggested that tourism has now earned the status of an industry that is too big to fail.

In that regard, he said, “it is therefore imperative that the sector survives during and beyond the current crisis so that it can continue to fulfil its vital role as a significant catalyst of global economic recovery and growth.”

However, he stressed that without equity in the distribution of vaccines, there would be no recovery for tourism, especially for Caribbean islands which depend heavily on the industry.

“The tourism industry, at both the global and regional levels, must speak up about the vaccine inequity louder than it already has and must play a more significant role in tackling the issues if the industry is to return to any sense of normality, as without vaccine equity there will be no travel recovery,” he warned.

He emphasised that tourism players in the region need to be vigilant.

“Persons within the industry have platforms, connections, expertise and global influence and are therefore able to articulate clearly and loudly to policymakers about the consequences of how things are going and also how they can function in a more morally-appropriate manner,” Bartlett said.

“In the final analysis, if Caribbean economic recovery is to begin this year, if employment is to be restored and tourism returned in a significant way, many more vaccines need to be made available very soon,” not just to safeguard public health but for longer term economic recovery and stability, ” he added.

Director of Tourism, Donovan White said with the onset of the pandemic in 2020, regional tourism inflows declined by 11 million or 66 per cent, relative to 2019 and was felt hard in Jamaica, with revenue generated through tourism taxes and other charges evaporating.

He added that so far, “only 30 per cent of local tourism workers have been back on their jobs full-time with another 10 to 20 per cent on part-time, with reduced wages as tourist visits continue to rise steadily.”

On the issue of vaccination inequality and hesitation, he saw the need for public/private sector partnership in educating the public, to ensure success at achieving herd immunity.