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Over the last five years, Jamaica has seen a steady increase in the level of Spanish investments flowing into the island. These have, primarily, manifested in hotel developments, mainly along the island’s north and west coast resort corridors.
Brands such as: Bahia Principe, Iberostar, Palmyra, and Riu, are among those hotels figuring prominently, and are household names, along with Jamaican-owned and operated chains, such as Sandals, Beaches, Breezes and Grand Lido, among locals and visitors.
With these developments providing potential markets for Jamaican goods and services, President of Jamaica Trade and Invest (JTI), Robert Gregory, says efforts are being pursued to forge partnerships between local manufacturers and service providers, and their counterparts in Spain.
This thrust, he informs, partly results from a meeting between a Jamaican delegation to Spain, and Spanish investors, earlier this year. The delegation, which was led by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade, Dr. Ken Baugh, was in that European country for the third Spain/CARICOM Summit, during which members met with several persons who currently have investments in Jamaica, as well as potential investors, to discuss the prospects for strengthening existing partnerships between both countries.
Mr. Gregory informs that some of the potential investors with whom members of the Jamaican team met, are companies that supply goods to the Spanish hotel chains in Jamaica.
Citing one area of interest, hotel furniture manufacturing, the JTI Head notes that a number of the current investors operating hotel chains, indicate that there are entities which now supply them with furniture and fixtures, with whom they have had long established relationships.
“[This] has proved to be a little bit of a challenge for our producers, who would want to produce and supply these particular goods and services to the hotels. It has been difficult to break into that relationship,” Mr. Gregory says.
He notes, however, that the discussions in Spain unearthed a willingness on the part of a number of the Spanish suppliers, to enter into joint venture partnerships with their local counterparts.
“So there is a prospect of us doing some matchmaking. However, we have to bring some propositions to Jamaican companies to see their level of interest to ‘marry’ with a Spanish firm. We believe that it’s a very good prospect; we believe it’s a win-win prospect,” he says.
Mr. Gregory points out that the benefits that would accrue from the creation of an “ideal situation” from this pursuit, would be a transfer of technology from the Spanish partner to the local counterpart; expansion of the local interest’s capacity; and “maybe, a generous sharing of the supplying of furniture to these investors, that are here in Jamaica.”
“But, more importantly, ..because of the joint venture, [the local partner] would have access to the European market, which is the home base for the (external) partner, with the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). I think it’s an interesting win-win situation for us to consider,” he contends.
Regarding the EPA, Mr. Gregory points out that while the facility may be “daunting” for some, it is “exciting” for Jamaica. He notes that the
investment and export landscape is constantly changing in a “rapidly changing world, adding that the country must “employ ingenuity” to keep pace, and pre-empt some of the changes.
“We can see the trends, and we can actually pre-empt some of them; we can step ahead of it, and be ahead of the game. But, it is to excite people about the possibilities, and not be daunted by the challenges. Challenges will always be there. It is to turn our creative juices, and look at it (challenge) as an opportunity for us to exploit,” the President says.
Another area, which Mr. Gregory says has great potential for growth in Jamaica, is health tourism, and informs that at least one Spanish firm, Hospiten, has indicated an interest in pursuing development in that area locally.
“They have built hospitals and medical facilities in different parts of the world, and they have indicated their intention to build a hospital here, on the north coast, initially, to serve the tourists who come to the Spanish hotels. But, the intention is to expand to offer its services to the wider Jamaican public,” he informs.
Mr. Gregory discloses that ground for the facility is slated to be broken in early 2009, before the end of the current fiscal year.
In his contribution to the 2008/09 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives in May, Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, announced that the health tourism hospital, slated for development on lands in Rose Hall, St. James, would be the first such facility in the Caribbean. He pointed out that it would be among the ventures to be undertaken or facilitated by the Government, aimed at enriching attractions within the tourism sector. Additionally, he said the 60-room facility is intended, among other things, to transform Jamaica into the “spa mecca of the western world.”
“Not only will you have a 60-room hospital, (but) you will have two satellite clinics as well, in Ocho Rios and Negril, so as not only to satisfy or assist in satisfying the local medical needs, but (they) will provide a base for streams of visitors to come into the country, so as to benefit from the medical services that we will be providing,” Mr. Bartlett outlined.
In supporting the concept, Mr. Gregory argues that Jamaica is an attractive “near shore” destination for health tourism, noting that the country has the requisite medical personnel with the necessary expertise, and reputation, to deliver the services.
“It is not a pipe dream to imagine using that reputation as a drawing card, be it a Jamaican investor or a foreign hospital operator, to set up shop in Jamaica, to attract patients from, say, North America, where the malpractice insurance premiums are so high, that it results in prohibitive costs for surgery. American patients are already going to India and Thailand, and far shore destinations for these services,” the President says, adding that accessing the service in Jamaica should be more cost effective than pursuing the same in their home country.