Big Up Small Business: Championing small tourism enterprises in Jamaica

Travel and tourism is a major source of economic growth and employment in Jamaica. With the right conditions, tourism has great potential to enable small businesses to prosper. Integrating local businesses into the tourism offer helps to build strong local economies, enhance livelihoods and reduce inequality. However, accessing the international tourism market is not always easy. By ensuring products and services are appropriate for international markets, SMTEs can improve their business and livelihoods, increase employment opportunities and further contribute to a healthy, thriving economy. Our Big Up Small Business project, in partnership with Tui Care Foundation, aimed to support small tourism businesses to do this.

What did Big Up Small Business do?

We worked with a whole range of exciting small businesses in Jamaica to support them to better connect with tourists and operators and to recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Small businesses, including artisans, accommodation providers, community enterprises, craft and food producers and micro excursion providers, received training and marketing support, both in person and online, to improve their businesses and better understand international market requirements.

We also provided bespoke, tailored support to a small cohort of ‘booster businesses’ identified through an application process as having the most potential to develop their offer, activities and marketing. The booster business programme aimed to inspire other small businesses and provide examples. The businesses involved were: Animal Farm and Nature Reserve, Bunkers Hill Cultural XPerience & River Tour, Far Out Fish Hut, Ilysse Experience, Holywell and Blue Mountain Peak Trail, Nonsuch Falls, Trench Town Ceramics and Art Centre.

Our support for the seven booster businesses included consultations, action plan and road map development as well as ongoing one-to-one support, photography, online workshops, providing support with access to finance and running competitions, each designed to help them implement their learning in specific ways.

Big Up Small Business achievements

The project created significant knowledge and resources for many small and medium tourism businesses in Jamaica, many of whom have changed or intend to change their business practices, products and services for the better as a result. Although the project was delayed by seven months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and had to adapt its goals as a result, 397 individuals representing 300 SMTEs across Jamaica benefitted from improved tourism market access in different ways from the training and resources provided through the programme and over 90% of those trained have increased knowledge of tourist market needs, and a better understanding to develop and adapt their products / services to meet these needs.

The booster businesses benefitted from a wide range of achievements. For example, Animal Farm and Nature Reserve expanded their accommodation offerings by opening a new solar-powered eco-duplex cottage, upgrading the existing cottages to provide hot water to them as well from additional solar power funded with the prize funds won from the digital marketing competition. Bianca Young, Marketing Manager of Animal Farm and Nature Reserve said: “Our website got a major tune-up when the Travel Foundation facilitated an on-site photoshoot and provided guidance on how to improve it, including the importance of including testimonials, having clear call-to-actions, and using an easy-to-navigate design. The high-definition photographs, featuring people enjoying the services we offer, have made a huge difference in the visual appeal of our site.”

Trench Town Ceramics and Art Centre used the opportunity of the digital marketing competition to collaborate with another artist, resulting in sales orders from within Jamaica and overseas. Garfield Williams, Owner at Trench Town Ceramic & Art Centre said: “The digital marketing competition that was launched in July 2021 gave me the opportunity to develop a campaign that promoted my partnership with a street photographer. As a result of that campaign, we were able to produce items that showcased the Jamaican culture and heritage and post these on social media. Those social media posts resulted in an increased interest in the Centre as well as increased sales for the items. Items were purchased from Jamaicans and foreigners from as far as New York.”

Garfield Williams, Trench Town Ceramic & Art Centre

Key takeaways

Big Up Small Business created significant knowledge and resources for SMTEs, many of whom have changed or intend to change their business practices, products and services for the better as a result. Businesses that have engaged with the programme, taken time to learn and applied the learnings to their business operations will continue to reap the rewards, especially as the tourism industry reinvigorates post-pandemic.

This project can serve as a model to implement similar capacity building projects in other destinations and complement tourism’s positive effects on local livelihoods. It shows that where a mainstream tourism sector is active, there are many opportunities for SMTEs to tap into the benefits. And the right enabling environment created by destination organisations and supportive tour operators can maximise these opportunities to access the tourism market and contribute to its vibrancy and appeal.

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