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For the past year, the Ministry of Tourism, has been working assiduously to execute initiatives that promote, develop and enhance the country’s tourism product.
The Ministry, under the leadership of Edmund Bartlett, focussed on marketing, product development and investment, to keep Jamaica in the forefront of Caribbean destinations.
In executing these key areas, the Minister, in October, unveiled a three-year strategy for sustainable tourism development in Jamaica, which will entail aggressive marketing, investment and product development strategies, to increase visitor arrivals and revenue to the industry.
The plan, Minister Bartlett noted, would focus on improved targets in stopover and cruise passenger arrivals and a near 50 per cent increase in revenue, from cruise passengers by the year 2010.
According to the Minister, the strategy would be based on the M-E-C-C-A principle, which entails: Embracing an aggressive strategic marketing initiative to take the fullest advantage of the country’s comparative and competitive edge; environmentally sensitive planning to avoid degradation of the natural product; cultural and heritage-based attractions; community-based development; and an all-inclusive concept for income generation and wealth sharing.
Following this initiative, the Ministry embarked on the ‘Drive for Five’ campaign, which is geared at increasing arrival figures by an additional five million by the year 2012.
“By 2012, we hope to increase the number of visitors by 70 per cent to five million and the daily tourist spending from US$85 to US$150,” the Minister outlined.
He added that this move would make Jamaica’s tourism sector worth $75 billion annually and boost revenue for all areas of hospitality, entertainment, retail and craft vendors.
In its bid to promote the sector and increase investment to Jamaica, the Ministry staged a number of seminars and trade shows in the resort towns across the island.
Top of the list was a mini trade show at the Half Moon Hotel in Rose Hall, St. James in September, where 80 travel agents from 10 gateways in the United States participated and got a taste of what Jamaica has to offer.
The event, organised by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), featured a number of booths showcasing vacation packages from hotel properties across the country, while JTB marketing representatives met with the travel agents, to guide them in selling Jamaica more effectively to their clients.
In February 2008, the Ministry hosted the first ever Tourism Outlook Seminar, which brought together key private and public sector stakeholders within the industry, to discuss the prospects of the tourism sector.
Later in April, the island’s capital city, Kingston, got central focus, with the staging of Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), an event which allowed leading suppliers of the Jamaica tourism product, to meet with travel wholesalers and tour operators from Europe and the Americas, in a professionally organised business exchange.
Throughout the year, Minister Bartlett led a series of delegations and tours to Europe, North America, Spain and other existing and emerging markets, to hold discussions with major airline principals over the expansion of routes to Jamaican gateways and bringing in new investors to build more rooms and develop attractions.
As it relates to airlift, the Minister has been proactive in working with airline companies to keep, and in many instances, increase the number of airline seats into Jamaica. The airline industry has been prepared to work with the Minister because Jamaica has a critical mass of rooms which, when marketed, can support the airline business.
On the matter of increasing the hotel room stock, the Ministry announced that by December 2008, approximately 3,000 rooms would be added to the current inventory, bringing it to 30,000. In addition, construction of new rooms is steadily growing and by 2012, the number of rooms should be increased to 45,000.
A major initiative that the Minister has undertaken is the ‘Spruce Up Jamaica – Nice Up Yuhself’ campaign. The first phase of the project, which got underway last November, was designed to clean and beautify resort areas across the island and involved the pruning of overgrown trees and shrubs, painting sidewalks and verges, and removing debris and other objects from the resort areas and their surroundings.
Phase Two, which he launched in May, is aimed at developing human resources and talents within the industry, and instilling a sense of pride in the country. Under this phase, three programmes were introduced: ‘Spruce Up Jamaica Entrepreneurial Fund’, which is a special programme to provide technical assistance and financing for small properties and enterprises; the ‘Tourism Service Excellence’ programme, geared towards promoting excellence within the sector; and the ‘Spruce Up Jamaica’ Youth Summer Programme, an initiative to enhance the overall visitor experience and provide employment for young persons.
Additionally, the Minister said that $50 million would be allocated for the development of sustainable tourism projects in schools, under phase two of the ‘Spruce up Jamaica’ programme.
“We want to make sure that our students are fully au fait with all of the best practices that must be pursued and embraced, to secure sustainable development and to sustain tourism, so that it can continue to be the principal element of job creation and economic empowerment in our country,” Mr. Bartlett pointed out.
Continuing on the development of the sector, the Minister announced that a hospitality training school would be built in Montego Bay, St. James, by 2009, as a means of further boosting the tourism industry in Jamaica.
Mr. Bartlettt explained that while the school would function as a hotel, it is intended to increase and prepare skilled personnel for all aspects of the industry.
The Minister also announced the establishment of a craft design school in Western Jamaica, to enhance the authenticity of local craft production, as well as showcase the high standard of the creative genius of the Jamaican people.
In terms of tour operations, Mr. Bartlett, throughout the year, was very involved in courting tour operators from existing and emerging markets. Earlier this year, Prime Minister, Bruce Golding and the Tourism Minister, hosted a number of leading tour operators at Vale Royal, to thank them for their support to Jamaica and encouraged them to pursue additional markets.
The Minister has also carried out similar activities in Ireland, China and Mexico, with plans of doing the same in Canada and other areas in the emerging markets.
In the meantime, the island’s first Mobile Command and Control Police Unit, complete with state-of-the-art surveillance equipment, was commissioned into service in Montego Bay in November.
The vehicle, which is the first of five for the island’s resort areas, was acquired at a cost of approximately $23.5 million, through the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), and is a project of the Tourism Ministry, in collaboration with the Ministry of National Security.
Also in November, the Ministry reported a boost in tourist arrivals to the island, with figures indicating a 4.8 per cent increase in visitor arrivals for September 2007, over the same period the previous year. Preliminary figures for October 2007, showed an 8.5 per cent increase over the previous year’s figures.
Preliminary figures, following the close of the 2007/08 winter tourist season in April this year, indicated an 8.4 per cent increase in stopover arrivals over the similar period the previous year.
For the January to March period, stopover arrivals were 483,959, up from 427,252 visitors in 2007.
In support of sports tourism, following the staging of the Beijing Olympic Games,in China the Tourism Minister announced plans to host the world’s first ever 100 metres Beach Sprint, which will be held in 2009, to coincide with the first staging of the World Athletics Awards.
The initiative, fully supported by Jamaica’s new Olympic Champion, Usain Bolt, aims to highlight the welcoming spirit of Jamaica as a leading lifestyle travel destination and a country of sporting excellence.
“The World Beach Sprint, is an invitation to unlock the mystery of Jamaican speed and to experience our country,” Minister Bartlett said. “We want people to see and experience Jamaica and to learn about our ‘Sprint Factory’.”
Also emerging from the Beijing Games, was the launch of the world’s first Destination Loyalty Card, by Jamaican tourism officials.
The ‘One Love’ membership card aims to bring tourists to Jamaica, providing them with a VIP service and giving them the ability to redeem points for hotels, attractions, ground transportation and special events.
The first ‘One Love’ commemorative card, featuring Beijing 2008 Olympic Champion, Usain Bolt, and the current Miss World, Zi Lin Zhang, was recently presented by Jamaica to Miss Zi Lin Zhang, who graciously accepted an invitation to visit Jamaica next year, for the inaugural staging of the World Beach Sprint.