More Jamaicans are being given the opportunity to earn a living from the lucrative hospitality sector through the online home-rental platform, Airbnb.
According to Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, 29 per cent of the 2.6-million stopover visitors who came to Jamaica last year did so through Airbnb, which he notes was partially due to COVID-19.
He said that during the pandemic when many persons lost their jobs, Airbnb provided a lucrative income-earning opportunity.
“What it tells us is that ordinary Jamaicans are opening their homes as accommodations and have been doing very well,” the minister remarked.
“This is what we mean when we say tourism is inclusive. This is why we have all the training and outreach programmes, such as speed networking, to get all our people involved. It must also be noted that Airbnb, as a company, donated US$250,000 to our Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre [GTRMC] located at the University of the West Indies,” he noted.
The GTRMC is designed to help vulnerable States around the world recover quickly from natural disasters. It specifically targets destination preparedness, management and recovery from disruptions and [or] crises that threaten economies and livelihoods, with real-time data and effective communication.
It is also a transformative tool, which seeks to safeguard and protect the tourism product of countries as well as ensure the sustainability of tourism globally.
Bartlett said that a recent investor report showing Airbnb reporting a profit of US$319 million in the final quarter of last year on revenue of nearly $2 billion, is an indication of how the homestay concept has exploded around the world, with Caribbean countries like Jamaica benefiting.
“It’s almost surreal to think that Airbnb, an online marketplace for short-term homestays and experiences, was born just 16 years ago  when two hosts welcomed three guests to their San Francisco home.
“It has since grown to over four million hosts, who have welcomed more than one billion guests in almost every country across the globe,” said Bartlett.
Bartlett argued that in Jamaica, an Airbnb can be found in every parish.
“This has added to our tourism offerings where there is now something for everybody. Every day, Airbnb hosts offer unique stays and experiences that make it possible for guests to connect with communities in a more authentic way. It thrills us to hear some of the stories from our Jamaican hosts… many who will readily tell you that they had no idea it was this easy to be a part of the tourism sector,” the minister pointed out.
Airbnb reported its first annual profit on February 14, which shows revenue surging in the final three months of 2022 as travel bookings rebounded.
The data also revealed that the entity’s net income had grown to $1.9 billion in 2022 compared with a loss of $352 million in 2021.
Minister Bartlett said that in addition to the growth in Airbnb stays locally, the pandemic can also be credited for bringing about a revival of villas and other European Plan (EP) properties, providing new and exciting community tourism experiences for visitors.
EP properties differ from all-inclusive hotels in that they do not provide food and refreshment. They, however, help to spread wealth throughout the community as visitors, who are not confined to a hotel, integrate into the community, patronising local eateries, attractions, transport operators and artisans.
Bartlett noted that for “tourism to work… ordinary Jamaicans must feel like they are a part of it… in both perception and reality.”
“This is why we are so happy about the advent and success of the Airbnb platform,” the minister added.
“What this means is that there is now a democratisation of the accommodations sub-sector. It means a large swath of Jamaican people with little homes, apartments, villas are now inserted in the tourism value chain, broadening, therefore, the range of participants in the industry, but more importantly, providing slices of this pie for a larger number of Jamaican people”.
Meanwhile, he said that the North-Eastern region of the country (Ocho Rios, Port Maria, and Port Antonio) is poised for a major boom, noting that the region could well be the next ‘Jamaican Riviera’.
“We have potential investors making overtures and enquiring about places like Robin’s Bay and Oracabessa [St Mary] and we are, of course, encouraging more Jamaicans to seize the moment and get involved in an industry that is now exceeding pre-COVID-19 numbers and is now on a pathway to shatter every imaginable comeback record in both arrivals and revenue by the end of 2023,” he said.