KINGSTON — Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, is projecting that the tourism sector will grow by 6.5 per cent this year, on the heels of last year's five per cent increase.
Addressing Heads of Missions at a meeting at the Knutsford Court Hotel, New Kingston on Wednesday June 29, Mr. Bartlett said that the Ministry has adopted a number of initiatives, as part of the growth strategy to ensure this reality.
He said that central to the growth strategy is airlift security and, unless the partnership between the airlines and Government is maintained, “we will be like the beautiful gems at the bottom of the sea; everybody knows that it’s there, but nobody can get to it”.
He said the Ministry has employed two key positions to ensure growth, one is to diversify its market and the other is to broaden Jamaica’s partnerships with airlines.
Mr. Bartlett said he is confident that Jamaica’s tourism market remains viable and is on the threshold of further growth. He also stated that the elusive US$2 billion in foreign exchange earnings was achieved last year, while the sector grew by five per cent.
“In so doing, Jamaica became the eighth destination of prominence in the entire Americas and we have all intention of going beyond there by 2012,” he said.
“We’re not going to do as much this year as we might have anticipated because, even though we project a 6.5 per cent growth for this year, that growth figure is going to be predicated on changes in the airlift configuration within our main market areas,” Mr. Bartlett added.
He also noted that changes in the operation of several world markets, meant that Jamaica would need to reconfigure its own operations to remain competitive and viable.
“The United States, which is our largest market source, we have seen significant shifts in the routing patterns of some of our legacy carriers. American (Airlines), for example, has reconfigured its operations to move heavy traffic out of the Miami hub, away from the New York hub,” he stated.
“What that meant was 50,000 seats lost to us, by that reconfiguration. So it means we have to go and make arrangements with other airlines to fill that gap. The result of that is the flights are coming to Jamaica full. The load factors are fantastic, but they are using fewer units with larger capacity,” he added.
The Minster however noted that this move was not peculiar to American Airlines, as this was the way most carriers were operating in the current environment.
The Tourism Minister was adamant that one of the main goals for his Ministry is to find new markets. He also stressed that Brazil, Russia, India and China, commonly referred to as BRIC, represent strong potential for growing visitor arrivals, as well as South Africa and South America.
“In pursuing the strategy for the BRIC we went to Moscow and last we are well on the road to have an arrangement that will possibly see the first flight out of Moscow, somewhere around December,” he said. He said he also hopes to sign a contract on Friday with South American airline COPA in Panama.
Last month, Mr. Bartlett announced that Jamaica would welcome direct flights out of four South American countries, with the potential of 12,000 extra seats to the island, doubling the current arrivals from that region.
By ATHALIAH REYNOLDS, JIS Reporter