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President of Jamaica Trade and Invest (JTI), Robert Gregory, has said that the tourism industry is a vital element in the drive for the creation and sustained generation of wealth for the country.
He was speaking at the launch of the first annual Tourism Outlook Seminar, held yesterday (February 20), at the Hilton Kingston Hotel.
Mr. Gregory, who deputized for Minister of Industry, Investment and Commerce, Karl Samuda, said that despite Jamaica’s internal difficulties, tourism “has maintained a steady trajectory to the benefit of our economy for many years.”
“I was particularly thrilled when we broke the three-million barrier for visitor arrivals (in 2006); thrilled not just because we had broken another record but elated at the business prospects that came with this new and growing market of three million visitors to our island,” he emphasized.
He said over three million tourists represented more than just room occupancy figures, they represented a market of new and repeat customers to whom “we can market authentic Jamaican-produced high-value, low volume niche products and services of a world class quality.”
“Over three million visitors hitting our shores every year offer us virtually limitless opportunities to leverage culturally-inspired Jamaican creativity and innovation to spawn an array of value-added wealth-creating business ventures that will spread the benefits across the economy and create real prosperity and growth for individuals, enterprises and the nation,” he added.
Mr. Gregory also said there were numerous opportunities to develop the tourism sector as a means of creating viable business for Jamaica, citing a short-order custom-made apparel industry in Jamaica. He gave the example of Hong Kong in Asia, where a custom apparel industry has been established to cater to short-stay visitors. There, tailors produce high-quality clothes within 24 hours, and ensure they keep in contact with their customers, by giving out business cards and sending out Christmas cards.”I believe it is possible for us to exploit such a business opportunity, which opens the doors for a variety of entrepreneurs in interdependent triangular business clusters of ‘just-in-time’ fabric suppliers, shop front operators with design catalogues and fabric samples, fabric warehouse suppliers and apparel fabricators. I see no reason, particularly since our visitors spend longer times here, for us not to consider this,” he stressed.
He also suggested developing strong vibrant business clusters and linkages. “With our current hotel room stock approximated at over 20,000 and counting, with projections of an additional 10,000 rooms over the next two to five years, JTI is actively engaged in sensitizing and organising local suppliers to provide a range of goods and services at a competitive price and most importantly, at high quality, for all our properties,” said.
A business cluster is a geographic concentration of inter-connected businesses, suppliers and associated institutions in a particular field, and is considered to increase the productivity with which companies can compete, nationally and globally.
He said the JTI has been redoubling its effort to sensitize producers about the cluster approach, as 80 per cent of the employment in the Jamaican economy came from micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, which have been conditioned to operate in a protected market previously unexposed to global competition.
Mr. Gregory said that by forming these clusters, “we can now confidently, through logistic value-chained links, link these supply clusters to the market of hotel properties with a view of competitively sustaining the displacement of foreign suppliers and producers to our properties.”
“No business operates outside of a social context and as our tourism product grows, so too will the expectations of communities and our local businesses which desire to be a part of a business cluster. People will now see the tangible economic and social benefits of tourism,” he added.The President also spoke of developing business opportunities within the tourism sector, such as attractions (theme parks and historical sites); sports tourism; health tourism (spas); and the reggae and music industry, among others.
Pointing to the JTI’s mandate to promote the ‘business side’ of Jamaica, he informed that during the course of the year, “we will be embarking on a number of critical promotional initiatives to deliver the message to the world that today’s Jamaica means business.”