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Tourism sector hunting expert to handle hacking and climate threats

Tourism interests want to fortify the sector and its products from the disparate risks of cybertheft and climate change to ensure the destination does not lose its zeal.

It follows a series of consultations and assessments of impacts on the sector amid continuing recovery from the pandemic.

“All destinations have risks,” said Robin Russell, president of the Jamaica Hotels and Tourism Association.

“It is my understanding that this is an exercise to identify and assess our risks and put plans in place to mitigate any effects,” Russell said.

In December, the Jamaican Government began the search for a consultant to devise a deeper risk management and action plan for the tourism sector. The agency that put out the tender was the Tourism Enhancement Fund.

“In recent times, several changes have been observed throughout the tourism industry, which has caused it to face new risks and crises. It can be assumed that this is because of how heavily dependent the industry is on human interaction and service provision,” noted the request for bids titled ‘Consultancy Service for Destination Assessment Register and Action Plan Montego Bay’.

Montego Bay is the epicentre of Jamaica’s tourism, but the main corridor spans the entire north coast, from Portland to Negril.

Currently, initiatives and training activities mitigate against some of the risks identified by the Ministry of Tourism and its agencies, the document stated. “However, there is a need to be more systematic with identifying and controlling risks affecting each destination resort area,” it said.

The Ministry of Tourism has two units that focus on various risks: the Research and Risk Management Department; and the Tourism Policy and Monitoring Department. The ministry, however, wants a consultant to deal with cybercrime, including hacking, to safeguard the information on tourists that hotels and others collect during their course of service delivery; and sea erosion and other related climate issues.

Explaining the reason for looking externally for a consultant, strategist and adviser Delano Seiveright said on Thursday that the series of assessments conducted by the Ministry of Tourism had also found shortfalls in the ministry’s own capacity to address the risks.

Jamaica earns most of its foreign exchange from tourism, followed closely by remittances. That was upended during the pandemic, when travel across borders all but flatlined, but now the Ministry of Tourism is projecting a return to robust flows from the sector.

Tourism earnings for calendar year 2022, January to December, are projected at US$4 billion, and at US$5 billion in 2023.

Several hotels now collect information that spans personal data on guests, spending patterns, and financial information that they utilise as tools to enhance customer satisfaction and work productivity. Due to the sensitive nature of the data being collected, the hotels’ databases are at a high risk of being hacked, the bid document noted.

“So, it is imperative that they do all they can to manage such crises; for example, training staff in cybersecurity, and putting the necessary resources and infrastructure in place,” it said.

“Another major risk likely to affect Jamaica’s tourism industry, due to its physical location and main tourist product offerings, are environmental risks. Jamaica is considered a dry tropical marine climate and is no stranger to natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, drought, etc.”

It added that due to emissions, the resulting change in climate has led to warmer temperatures, less rainfall, and a rise in sea levels.

“These threats have started to affect the island’s natural resources, and is expected to get worse over time without proper planning and implementation of those plans,” the bid document stated.

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