MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — The international tourism industry has been traveling full-speed ahead as one of the fastest growing economic sectors in the world despite the fact that bank accounts have been going in the opposite direction just as quickly.

To discuss the state of the industry within the current global economic landscape, Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism hosted Changes, Challenges & Opportunities in Tourism, the third annual Tourism Outlook Seminar (TOS). Experts who gathered in Montego Bay for the two-day conference predicted a positive future for the booming business.

“There is a big move all over the world for transformation into tourism-driven economies,” said Edmund Bartlett, the minister of tourism in Jamaica. “The countries of the world are seeing that tourism is an important stimulant to economic activity. This is the number one foreign exchange earner.”

The industry soared from 1950-2005 when international travel expanded from 25 million to 806 million travelers, or an annual rate of 6.5 percent. By 2020, the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) anticipates international arrival rates surpassing 1.5 billion people.

Through several recommendations outlined under three categories– resilience, stimulus and green economy– the UNWTO suggests an international push on tourism to revitalize the economy, with employment opportunities topping each list. Tourism provides more than 75 million direct jobs worldwide and offers women and youth from rural and urban communities easy entry into the workforce, according to the TOS co-sponsor. As countries steer back to economic stability, the UNWTO encourages world leaders to consider tourism as a key route in the roadmap to recovery.

“Tourism, for us, is a huge job creation and poverty alleviation mechanism,” the minister said, attesting to the impact tourism has on the economy. Almost 100 thousand residents are directly employed by tourism in Jamaica and 250,000 people are employed indirectly.

“Very few industries in the world have that capability of being able to provide that wide range of occupational interests. The master plan is to, of course, increase tourism’s contribution to the overall GDP to create more jobs.”

As the economy changes, the tourism industry must change with it, Bartlett said, but that can only happen with forward and creative thinking- more than just thinking outside the box.
“There can be no box,” he emphasized. “There is no box.”