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· It gives me great pleasure to welcome our travel and tourism partners to this timely webinar, “Culinary Tourism: The Secret Sauce in Selling the Caribbean.”
· The Caribbean has an amazingly diverse culinary heritage that is more than worthy of recognition.
· It is a rich convergence of historical influences, which have been stirred by time into a vibrant melting pot of cultures. This is most evident in the region’s rich and innovative food scene.
· Caribbean cuisine tells a story of the people who came. It is the by-product of the Spanish Occupation, the Slave Economy, Indian and Chinese Indentureship, British Colonialism, and Jewish and Syro‐Lebanese migration.
· This cultural fusion has given us Puerto Rico’s much-loved lechón asado (spit-roasted suckling pig); Barbados’ cou-cou and flying fish; Jamaica’s world-renowned jerked pork; Guyana’s pepper pot and Trinidad’s curry duck and roti.
· This wonderful culinary narrative ought to be shared with the world and you, our valuable tourism partners, can help us to do so.
· I mentioned that this webinar is timely. This is because the Caribbean region is now emerging from a COVID-19-induced shutdown, which has taken a heavy toll on our tourism-dependent island economies.
· Before the pandemic, Caribbean tourism was enjoying record arrivals. In 2019, stopover arrivals grew by 4.4% to reach 31.5 million, outpacing the international rate of growth of 3.8% reported by the World Tourism Organization, and the highest growth rate in the Americas.
· At the same time, cruise visits increased by 3.4% to 30.2 million, representing the seventh consecutive year of growth.
· Unfortunately, closed borders and other measures put in place to contain the pandemic’s spread could see tourism arrivals decline by 50% or even 80% or 100%, according to the Caribbean Development Bank. This could mean a 10% decline in the GDPs of some countries, and others up to 30%.
· As we move to rebuild this vital industry amid COVID-19, we must look at tourism through a new and innovative lens.
· We must exploit our comparative advantage to carve out a more lucrative slice of the highly competitive global tourism pie. And the only way to do this is with high quality differentiated products.
· I often speak of a new generation of post-COVID-19 travellers (Generation C or GEN-C) that will reshape the way global tourism is marketed in the conceivable future. GEN-C, unsettled by the crisis, will want reassurance and evidence that their experience overseas will be safe and not put their health and personal wellbeing at risk.
· Any new strategy to build out of culinary tourism product must take GEN-C into account and demonstrate a commitment to new standards of health and safety.
· Webinars like this one, which explore how culinary tourism can elevate and differentiate the Caribbean product, will help to unlock our vast potential; particularly in post-COVID-19 times. I therefore congratulate Natalie John and the Travel Advisors Selling the Caribbean (TASC) team for this initiative.
· I look forward to hearing from your eminent panel as they share their knowledge and experiences, and explore strategies to develop and market this growing tourism niche.
· Culinary tourism offers a direct connection with the local culture of a destination through authentic food experiences.
· Erik Wolf, Executive Director, World Food Travel Association, offers an apt definition: "Food tourism is the act of travelling for a taste of place in order to get a sense of place."
· This is why culinary tourism is considered a sub-category of experiential tourism. It attracts modern travellers who want to connect with the destination by immersing themselves in its history, people, culture, food and environment.
· Globally, gastronomy tourism has grown into a US$150 billion industry, according to the World Food and Travel Association.
· Over a third of tourist spending is said to be devoted to food. “Deliberate” foodies – where culinary activities are the key reason for the trip, tend to spend a significantly higher amount of their overall travel budget, around 50%, on food-related activities.
· Culinary tourism has evolved to encompass activities beyond the plate, including attending food events and festivals; visiting local markets; taking cooking classes; going on food tours; visiting local wineries, breweries or rum distilleries; and learning about the production of food by visiting farms and artisan producers.
· The Caribbean is one of the world’s top tourist destinations but sun, sea and sand is no longer a competitive advantage.
· We must now think outside the traditional and safe ‘box’. While many islands have embraced culinary tourism, there are countless untapped opportunities to leverage the region’s authentic food offerings to grow tourism.
· The Caribbean should be marketed as the culinary epicentre of the Americas. As individual islands we have much to offer but as a region, we are an even stronger culinary force.
· The Caribbean is home to some of the best rums in the world – Jamaica’s Appleton Rum; Sint Maarten’s Topper’s Rhum (French spelling for rum); Barbados’ Mount Gay and St. Nicholas Abbey; and Cayman Islands’ Tortuga Rum, just to mention a few. Why not market a multi-destination tour of the region’s rum distilleries?
· As we innovate in times of COVID-19, we must explore creative ways to highlight the Caribbean’s unique culinary experiences. Cooking classes with celebrity chefs and virtual farm tours come readily to mind.
· With the renewed focus on health and wellness, it is an opportune time to push Jamaica’s burgeoning nutraceutical foods market, particularly our teas (guinea hen weed, lemongrass, moringa).
· It is an industry that is gaining traction internationally and should be used to attract more visitors.
· There are endless options to leverage the Caribbean’s vibrant culinary scene to attract visitors to the region year-round.
· Here in Jamaica, my Ministry has taken strategic steps to maximize the potential of culinary tourism as we reposition and diversify our tourism product to generate higher growth rates in both visitor arrivals and earnings.
· Our Gastronomy Network, which falls under the aegis of our Tourism Linkages Network (TLN), has been doing an excellent job of building out new and exciting experiences for locals and visitors alike.
· In 2017, we launched Jamaica’s first Centre of Gastronomy at Devon House. The historic Kingston landmark is home to restaurants and shops offering everything from Jamaican patties and the famous Devon Duppy cocktail to gourmet chocolates and Middle Eastern fare.
· We plan to expand the Devon House experience to include a self-service kitchen, farmers' market and more food shops.
· In 2018, we held the inaugural Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Festival. The three-day signature event, which includes a Farmers Trade Day, a Festival Marketplace and the Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Trail Brunch.
· Then in 2019, we introduced the Jamaica Rum Festival, a showcase in our country's excellence in rum, food and music. Both festivals have been a resounding success and are already outgrowing their venues.
· To fully integrate Jamaica’s culinary offerings, the TLN has developed a Taste Jamaica app and website, which allow users anywhere in the world to view our culinary hotspots, trails and events.
· We have placed a strong emphasis on professional development within the tourism sector. The Culinary Ambassador Programme is one such capacity-building initiative introduced by the Gastronomy Network in partnership with the Culinary Federation of Jamaica (CFJ).
· Winners of the annual Taste of Jamaica Culinary Competition receive training in New York and then undertake their duties as national Culinary Ambassadors, participating in local and international culinary events. The programme helps to advance the reputation and awareness of authentic Jamaican cuisine around the world.
· So you can see the vast potential of culinary tourism in building an inclusive and sustainable product that serves up unique and memorable food and drink experiences for our visitors while providing a viable livelihood for local farmers, businesses and communities. It benefits visitors and host communities alike.
· Culinary tourism is a powerful tool to market the Caribbean. Let us continue to work together to promote our incredible food experiences and establish the region as a much sought after culinary destination.