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Aerial view of the Montego Bay Convention Centre, in St. James
Photo: Contributed

The Montego Bay Convention Centre in St. James, continues to distinguish itself as the leading hub in the Caribbean for hosting local and international conferences and first-class meetings.

The nine-time World Travel Awards winning facility has been bringing in equitable gains to St. James and the wider economy, hosting over 100 local, international and regional events over the past few years and promoting Jamaica as a prime meeting destination.

Situated along the picturesque Rose Hall corridor, the world-class facility, which is an agency of the Ministry of Tourism, is the first of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean and is managed by SMG World, an American worldwide venue management group.

General Manager of the Convention Centre, Karron Benjamin, says the facility has been rebounding after a period of losses, and the just-ended 2018/2019 financial year saw the centre recording a sharp increase in the number of events it hosted.

“For the 2018/2019 financial year, we saw an increase in activities, which, therefore, means an increase in earnings. The capacity of the property is up to 17,000 people. When you look at what’s in the pipeline and what is to come and looking at the trend over the years, you can see that the Convention Centre is meeting the requirements and also establishing Jamaica as not only a leisure destination, but also a meeting destination that we can capitalise on, especially for large groups,” he says.

Over the years, the centre has hosted many high-profile conferences, with the most prominent being the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) global conference in November 2017, the biggest tourism conference ever staged in the Americas.

Mr. Benjamin says the conference, which saw some 800 tourism decision-makers worldwide descending on the grounds of the facility, was one of its biggest achievements, as the management of the Convention Centre demonstrated to a global audience that the facility is capable of hosting high-profile conferences.

Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, says the response of the Convention Centre to the demands of the UNWTO conference was exemplary.

He says that as a result of that success, the centre has since signed off on a number of new contracts to host large-scale international conferences.

“I think we made a great impression on the global community so that more people want to come to Jamaica to have more conferences and meetings. We have seen that in terms of the number of contracts that we have signed since that time for big meetings,” the Minister notes.

The Convention Centre also successfully hosted a number of other major conferences, including CANEX Business Conference and Expo, FOROMIC 2016; the 46th Annual Meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank Board of Governors; Caribbean Hoopfest; Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX); Latin Finance’s second Caribbean Finance and Investment Forum; The Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission’s Caribbean Gaming Show and Summit 2017; the Build Expo and Conference; and the Jamaica Bridal Expo.

Mr. Benjamin credits the continued success of the Convention Centre to its marketing strategy, the diligence of its staff and the precision with which the events are planned and executed.

“One of the areas that I have always spoken about is the human capital – the training and the investment that we have done within our human resources. The key component for that kind of success is the staff that you work with, the dedication, the passion, and the highly trained individuals that you do have on property. In addition, the facility itself, and how we execute the events. That is what makes us really successful,” he points out.

Serving as an economic landscape, Mr. Benjamin says the Convention Centre has been getting down to business by helping to boost hotel occupancy in Montego Bay and increase revenue flow by way of taxation.

“This [success] also trickles down to having an economic impact. We look at the impact that it does have on the hotels in terms of room nights; and we look at the impact that it does have on the ground destination. In the financial year 2019/2020, you will see an increase in bookings coming into the hotels, you’ll see much more spending for excursion activities, you will see much more spending in the nightlife within Montego Bay itself, so that is where we look at things – the economic impact,” he tells JIS News.

As for the future of the conference facility, Mr. Bartlett says the Government will continue to consolidate the facility’s status as a venue of choice in the local, regional and global marketplace.

“We need to now get to the next step, which is to have a convention hotel that is linked with this, so that the packages can be made that are affordable, so that we will be able to get far more business for the centre. I am excited with the prospects of future growth as we build out the capacity here to have more of the kind of comfort that is required for big meetings,” the Minister says.

The Montego Bay Convention Centre was officially opened in 2011 as a venue for conventions, trade shows, banquets and theatre-style conferences.