JIS News

A 5,000-capacity convention centre is to be constructed by the Government by 2009, as the administration gets ready to launch the island as a religious tourism destination.
Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett made the disclosure during a briefing session, prior to a consultative meeting with a group of church leaders at the Terra Nova Hotel, on (January 28).
Mr. Bartlett said the first order of business would be to formalize a structure for the faith-based tourism sector, and then proceed to set up the infrastructure essential to kick-start the venture.
“We felt that the need exists for us to structure this area of our activity because of the growing and expanding influence of religious travel in the travel and tourism industry,” he explained.
He said that Jamaica stands to benefit from its proximity to the traditional markets of the United States and Canada, where 500 meeting planners convene annually to plan conventions, campaigns, and rallies all over the United States and Canada. He noted that the United States has some 450,000 churches, 50,000 of which run group travel programmes.
Youth, missionary and fellowship groups travel most frequently. “The destinations range from Israel, which has the highest incidence of tourism travel, to the Caribbean, Europe, Africa and others. Missionary work is a big area of travel in the religious fraternity, with Africa and India being the largest recipient countries,” he pointed out.
Youth groups, especially, visit countries where they participate in charitable projects for communities, another possible spin-off of faith-based tourism, the Minister said. He said that Jamaica has membership in the premier association in the United States for planners of religious conferences, the Religious Conference Management Association (RCMA), and has attended a large number of faith-based marketplaces. The organization, with a membership of 3,402, is responsible for 17,000 conventions totalling 14.7 million attendees, and operates in a structured market, he added. Other data provided by the Jamaica Tourist Board reveal that the organization was responsible for 15,047 meetings held outside the USA, and resort hotels attracted 11.3 per cent of these. For 16 per cent of the meetings, 100 to 200-room hotels were booked, while 12 per cent booked 500 to 1,000 rooms.
“So we are beginning to understand the dynamics of that marketplace and the power of religious tourism across the globe…. So there is a huge market sector that remains essentially untapped by Jamaica,” Mr. Bartlett informed.
The island’s venture into the faith-based travel and tourism sector will require large convention centre facilities, he said.
“We do not lack infrastructure, we do lack space… Large convention facilities are a must… The infrastructure is unfolding. The convention centre is going to be a reality,” he stressed, adding that the Trelawny Stadium “has tremendous possibility as a possible convention centre site.
“There are other areas that you can look at also, so I think that whilst we are putting together our thoughts about formalizing faith-based tourism in Jamaica. we can also look at infrastructure that exists and some to be created, so as to facilitate this,” he said.The Minister informed that 2009 could be the earliest deadline for the construction of a convention centre large enough to facilitate conventions hosted by faith-based groups.
Support for the venture came from Bishop Herro Blair of the New Testament Church of God and Reverend Al Miller of the Fellowship Tabernacle. Bishop Blair described the idea as timely and “such a great part of the tourism product.”
Rev. Miller said that the vision for faith-based marketing has been about 10 years in the making, and he is “happy” for the government’s commitment to putting a structure in place to drive this untapped sector.
Also attending the meeting were Rev. Dr. Roy Notice, New Testament Church, Mandeville; Rev. Peter Garth, Chairman, Jamaica Association of Evangelicals; and Bishop Everton Thomas, Presiding Bishop, Emmanuel Apostolic Church of Christ Inc. and Chairman of the Jamaica Pentecostal Union.

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