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It is noteworthy that just one day after observing World Tourism Day, we are here to witness the signing of an agreement which will result in one of the largest and most ambitious tourism projects ever initiated by the Government of Jamaica.
This US$2 billion Harmony Cove development will have a most significant and far-reaching impact on the tourism landscape of Jamaica with positive spin-offs for the industry and wider community.
Indeed, ladies and gentlemen, the growth we are currently experiencing in the tourism sector has not come about by chance or luck. And having been there myself, as a Former Tourism Minister, I want to express my gratitude to those who have weathered the storm to make such accomplishments a reality.
It is interesting that while in the past, the complaint was that we did not have enough hotel rooms, now that we are building and real investment is taking place and investors are coming, we now hear another complaint that we are building too many hotels in the country.
We are not going to stop development in Jamaica, which is for the benefit of the Jamaican people and the greater good of our country.
I want to commend our Jamaican hoteliers – all of them, big, medium and small, and those in the hospitality industry who have kept this industry going through some difficult periods. Today’s signing of the Harmony Cove project forms part of our overall strategic vision to re-position Jamaica’s tourism industry and continue its development. This project will not only contribute to transforming the industry but will deepen the value-added contribution of the sector to the Jamaican economy and society.
The Harmony Cove development flows from the vision of the Tourism Master Plan and will be the most exclusive resort and residential development know to any Caribbean destination. It offers the finest resort accommodations, an array of residential villas, golf courses and a range of amenities.
The project will add some 5,000 rooms to the country’s present hotel stock.
Mr. Chairman, this project is a significant one for Jamaica’s tourism and offers economic development prospects in several areas.
First, it will result in significant short, medium and long-term job opportunities which are critical in a labour-surplus economy like ours, where we need to put more people to work.
Some 10,000 jobs will be created during the construction phase and as many as 15,000 permanent jobs when the project is completed and operational. It is the kind of employment which flows from big projects, which is another of the criticisms we hear from time to time that the government is too focused on large hotel development.
Let me walk you through the wisdom of having a big vision for a big country, even if it is a small space that we occupy.
The employment possibilities which will be generated by this project from the very day construction starts will make a big difference in the lives of people at all levels – from the man selling porridge for breakfast to the carpenters and masons on the construction site, to the local hardware retailer, the security firm, not to mention the hundreds of skilled labourers actually working on the site.
The job opportunities are not confined to the building and construction phase. One completed and in the operations phase, there will be employment opportunities for workers and professionals at all levels within the industry – administrative staff and managers, entertainers, taxi drivers, craft vendors and artisans, and more.
All of this will convert to a better quality of life for our people. The fact is, ladies and gentlemen, at all levels of the local community, the Harmony Cove project will provide a boon of related and well needed economic activities especially to the parishes of Trelawny, St Ann and St James.
One of the areas of emphasis of this government is the decentralization of development as one of the ways of stemming the rural-urban drift with its disastrous consequences. We must create increased opportunities for people in rural communities so that there is no necessity for them to feel the need to migrate to urban areas.
A project such as this will create a virtuous circle of tangible opportunities which can only redound to the benefit of Jamaica.
In addition to the direct spin-offs, there will enormous opportunities for linkages with other sectors such as our attractions, agriculture and food-processing, manufacturing and others.
In fact, along with the soon to be completed Greenfield stadium, and after World Cup Cricket 2007, Harmony Cove could well serve as a unique avenue for us to fully exploit the growing and very attractive sports tourism market.
These developments will also be instrumental in stimulating the re-development efforts for the great, historical town centre of Falmouth. It was no accident that the town of Falmouth was the major Labour Day Project this year, as clearly, there are opportunities which as a country we need to grasp.
It is for these reasons that the Government is right now involved in the planning stage for the development of the Wharf Project in Falmouth. The acquisition and redevelopment of the wharves to the eastern side of the town will act as a catalyst in this re-development effort. In this project, we will marry our history and culture with a strong tourism product.
The Wharf Project Site covers over 7 acres, which when developed will consist of a theatre; a museum; restaurants, bars and retail establishments.
The museum will commemorate the Jamaican experience with special emphasis on the period of slavery and in which will be a special monument and memorial to mark the bi-centenary of the abolition of the slave trade.
The theatre will house a Jamaica Music Revue, whose attraction, you can imagine, will be enormous and phenomenal.
The revue will showcase the island’s rich heritage in music and dance as well as trace the fascinating evolution of Jamaica’s music from its earliest beginnings to the present day.
Mr. Chairman, taken as a whole, this Harmony Cove project and the related developments will be one of far-reaching significance to Jamaica.
The Government is pleased to be partnering with the Tavistock Group – a private sector entity, which will undertake the design, financing, construction and operation of this most exciting venture. Yours is an act of confidence in Jamaica.
I invite Jamaicans at home and those in the Diaspora to take advantage of this investment opportunity.
I would like to commend all the parties for the hard work done in bringing us to this stage.
I am pleased to say that all the relevant agencies of Government, including the environment agency, have been engaged in the process and their involvement will continue during the course of the roll-out of the project.
On the matter of the environment, let me make it absolutely clear that the strictest standards will be adhered to in order to protect the environment.
Wide consultation with the Trelawny community must continue to ensure that there will, indeed, be harmony in the Harmony Cove development. We must ensure that the parish of Trelawny and surrounding communities benefit as fully as possible from this far-reaching development at Harmony Cove.
Mr. Chairman, the unprecedented levels of investments in our tourism industry and the deepening of the industry are setting the stage for even more extraordinary developments and growth in the future.
Already, the country has been making noteworthy progress. We are now enjoying an 18% increase in visitor arrivals over 2005, with a record 1.2 million visitors over the first eight months of this year. At the end of August, we had earned US$1.3 billion from the sector.
Cruise ship arrivals have also turned in record performance this year as between January and July we welcomed 772,709 cruise ship visitors, a 13.4% increase over the corresponding period.
The Government is ensuring that we maximize not just the foreign exchange and employment potential of the sector but that we deepen its linkages throughout the economy.
There is tremendous potential, for import-substitution, for example, in the area of furniture. I have already instructed the Minster responsible for Industry to work with the furniture manufacturers to develop a plan to resuscitate the local industry.
We must ensure that the hotel sector purchase more quality products from our own local furniture industry.
And so Mr. Chairman, I am truly pleased to be able to witness today’s signing which represents so much hope for the people of Trelawny and surrounding communities, and indeed, all Jamaica.
The Government is committed to the success of this project and with the partners we have in the Tavistock Group, I have every confidence that Jamaica will reap rich rewards from this project.
I thank you