KINGSTON — Newly elected President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Evelyn Smith is optimistic of Jamaica’s prospects for growth in the tourism sector, and is planning to forge stronger linkages with various industries, including agriculture and education, in the hope of taking advantage of these opportunities.
Speaking with JIS News recently, Mrs. Smith says she believes Jamaica has the potential to outshine its regional competitors, but there is still some work to be done.
“Tourism is definitely, in my mind, the driver for growth within Jamaica and there are a lot of linkages that can be developed. One of the things I want to develop is to work more on those linkages with sectors, such as agriculture, entertainment and culture, as well as education,” she outlines.
She argues that such linkages will allow the tourism sector to become more viable as more Jamaicans will begin to see themselves as stakeholders and recognise the critical role they play in developing Jamaica as a preferred destination.
Mrs. Smith, who recently replaced Sandals Resorts International’s Wayne Cummings, as President of the JHTA,joins the ranks of the late Lucille Lue who, up until this point, was the first and only female to lead the organisation. Mrs. Lue served the association from 1991 to 1993.
The Ten-Sing Pen General Manager is the second woman to head the JHTA in more than two decades. The seasoned hotelier has over 20 years working experience in the industry and has been involved in a wide variety of areas, including hospitality and management consulting.
Asked about her plans for the sector, the Wellesley College graduate says one of her immediate tasks is the further development of the small accommodation sector.
“Over the years, one has often heard that the small accommodation sector has challenges, but it’s unacceptable that the occupancy level of that sector remains at no better than 30 per cent for many years,” she tells JIS News.
“We need to look at tangible things that we can do to help our members, as well as working on additional marketing programmes that can be organised in partnership with the Jamaica Tourist Board and other tourism interests to get that sector to grow to greater levels,” she adds.
Mrs. Smith says there is also a need for more educational seminars for entities within the hotel and attractions industry, in order to further develop on the current ideas for growth and transformation, to make destination Jamaica more attractive.
She notes that another major area of concern is the high insurance costs often associated with water-front properties. Mrs. Smith plans to dialogue with insurance companies in the hope of arriving at a solution to the insurance-risk challenge, which is currently facing many of these entities, especially those in parts of Westmoreland and Portland.
“Many of the entities within the Association are on the ocean front and we have a particular challenge in terms of getting insurance. There’s a very high cost attached to insurance coverage or in some cases, it is almost impossible to get adequate insurance coverage for many of these properties, because of the high risk associated with our water front properties,” she informs.
Another priority for the new President is meeting with the various stakeholders and subsectors within the industry, in order to get a better idea of the various challenges.
“Part of my first order of business is to ensure that I go out to the various chapters, meet with them and understand their challenges,” she says.
Speaking on Jamaica’s recent foray into the South American market, Mrs. Smith says there are incredible prospects for even further growth, noting that the market can be regarded as a “sleeping giant."
“The idea of actually getting into the market and properly developing it is wonderful, because there are many people there who are just waiting to come to Jamaica. They seem to have an affinity to Jamaica because of our people, as well as our music and culture, and for many of them Jamaica is a very attractive destination,” the JHTA President tells JIS News.
However, Mrs. Smith says some level of configuring needs to be done, in order to take full advantage of this new market, particularly in terms of adequate airlift, language conformity and visa costs.
“The language issue is a fantastic opportunity for our teachers. We have a very strong set of foreign language teachers, both teaching French and Spanish that have been struggling for years within our educational system and this now gives more Jamaicans a tangible opportunity to use their skills and to be a part of tourism,” she argues.
In the meantime, Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett welcomes the appointment of the seasoned hotelier. He notes that Mrs. Smith has been elected President at a time, “when the industry is indeed poised for development and new growth."
He notes that the industry is also in the throes of a global uncertainty, in terms of the critical growth patterns in the various markets across the world.
The Minister says moving away from a heavy dependence on the traditional markets, such as North America, and taking advantage of the new and emerging markets is regarded as the new challenge of global tourism.
“It is in that context that I am welcoming the new President, because she is taking over at a time when the global configuration, both in terms of the markets, as well as investment flows are changing and changing rapidly,” he tells JIS News.
“I am looking forward with great anticipation to a fruitful and cordial relationship, as we build this great industry in this difficult post-recession period,” the Minister adds.
By: Athaliah Reynolds, JIS reporter