Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson Miller celebrated the commencement of the 2012/2013 Winter Tourist Season at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St. James, with the official welcoming of the first visitors to Jamaica, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew and Chelsea Derby from Fort Lauderdale, USA.
They were among approximately 400 visitors on the first of a number of flights that were scheduled to take an estimated 5,000 visitors to Jamaica on the first day of what is expected to be a “bumper” winter tourist season.
Addressing the official launching of the season as well as the official opening of the new VIP Lounge, Club MoBay, the Prime Minister said that the occasion represented yet another step forward in enhancing the country’s tourism product, which has earned for Jamaica, a place in the hearts of visitors the world over.
“Given the benefits that this industry has brought to Jamaica over several decades, product enhancement is work that must never cease. Our duty is to keep moving upward and onward. Let us remember with pride, that we are senior players in the global tourism industry … our tourism product and travel trends for both vacation and business have come a long way,” Mrs. Simpson Miller pointed out.
She observed that since the 1980’s , tourism has been one of the leading growth industries in the global economy and represented some 35 per cent of the world’s export of services.
"According to the UN (United Nations) World Tourism Organization, International arrivals are expected to grow by 4.1 per cent annually to 2020 … Jamaica has been one of the world’s popular resort vacation destinations for more than half a century and has seen significant growth of its tourist industry since our Independence”, the Prime Minister stated.
She further noted that in 2006, total visitor arrivals comprising stop-over visitors and cruise passengers, passed the three million mark for the first time, while in 2011, total visitor arrivals grew by 8.7 per cent to 3.1 million visitors.
“The latest information is that for the period January to October of this year, there was an overall increase of 12.5 per cent in total visitor arrivals compared to the similar period last year,” she outlined.
Mrs Simpson Miller observed that tourism is regarded as one of the leading industries contributing between five and eight per cent of total Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employing approximately 80,000 persons and accounting for some 41 per cent of foreign exchange earnings from the productive sectors in 2011.
“The work of the various administrations over the years to maintain this growth momentum must be commended. The country is holding its market share in the Caribbean tourism market, but faces strong competition from other regional destinations including the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Cancun, Mexico. Given our economic situation and our determination to put the country on the path of sustainable economic growth, we have no choice, but to relentlessly pursue Vision 2030 goals for tourism which include, among other things, a highly integrated tourism industry which can act as a driver for economic development, a tourism product that is diverse and distinctly Jamaican, with internationally competitive standards,” the Prime Minister stated.
She indicated that the Vision also has the objective of establishing an adequately well trained and motivated workforce within the tourism sector as well as a tourism product that is inclusive and facilitates broad participation and a safe, secure and sustainable natural, social and built environment.
“We have already started exploring new possibilities to expand and diversify our tourism product to include health, sports, eco and heritage tourism. Advances are being made step by step and I believe that we need to push seriously in this area … tremendous investments have been made and work continues apace in the infrastructure development of the country in relation to ports, airports and roadways … which are especially beneficial to tourism development,” the Prime Minister pointed out.
She asserted that with all the plans and projections for the future growth of the economy, she was “very confident” that the country would soon overcome the present challenges and realize the objectives of reducing the debt, creating jobs and getting the economy to grow at an acceptable rate.