OPENING REMARKS AT THE CARIBBEAN HEALTH TOURISM & SPA SYMPOSIUM AT THE HILTON KINGSTON HOTEL BY HON. ALOUN N’DOMBET ASSAMBA


Before getting into the meat of the matter it is quite in order for me to ask us all to pause for a while and reflect on the positive impact our mothers have had on us as individuals and collectively as a people and a society.
A VERY HAPPY MOTHERS’ DAY TO ALL THE MOTHERS PRESENT!
Ladies and Gentlemen here we are again to mark the start of another Caribbean Health Tourism and Spa Symposium.
Increasingly this sub-sector within the wider Tourism Industry is becoming more important to the viability and sustainability of Tourism markets across the world.
There are several reasons for this, not least amongst them being a widening base of discerning, well informed and educated consumers.
There is a greater premium placed on lifestyle commerce wherein the decision to spend a dollar or not to spend a dollar is made after careful consideration of the benefits that that dollar will yield in terms of value for money and positive impact for the well being of the purchaser and the persons involved in the supply chain that yielded the product being purchased.
The issue of well being is not a new one – many may argue that the concept, though not new is experiencing a renaissance as seen in the habits of the modern consumer.
Well Being or the sexier version Wellness has become a conscience creating philosophy that permeates the way many of us purchase clothes, eat food, have our hair done and I am told even determine which movies we will or will not watch.
The matter of well being after all is why we work, why we struggle to educate ourselves and to advance in society – all in an effort to ensure that at the end of it all we may live long lives, healthy and peaceful lives and provide for our families and loved ones.
This philosophy style of purchasing has made its way into the tourism market in a very big way.As the distance and time difference between various parts of the world is shrunk every day more by modern Information and Communication Technologies we are as consumers more aware of techniques and technologies in other parts of the world that have proven to improve the quality of life and the health of people.
The more we become aware of these exotic foods and the unique methods of preparing them, or a particular form of stimulating and or relaxing the muscles, or a different way of applying pressure or puncture to release toxins, oxygenate the tissue or rejuvenate the spirit we are determined to learn more about it, obtain it or at least experience it – in all cases willing to pay for it.
It is this unending quest that has led to the phenomenal growth of the Health and Wellness Tourism and the rapid proliferation of spas and wellness villages.
This trend or wave as it is often described has rightfully taken hold right here in Jamaica – home to the Caribbean’s most renown boutique brands when it comes to wellness villages, therapeutic activities, neutraceuticals and spas.
As I say the word spa – I am reminded of its most literal meaning – healing water. I am also reminded of a most colourful character in Jamaica’s modern folklore Pastor Alexander Bedward of whom many songs and stories of tribute have been written – one goes “Dip them Bedward, Dip them in the healing stream”.
And Jamaica being the land of wood and water has always been known for its healing streams. In fact it is a history that is very intertwined with the history of great Jamaican heroes who resisted the scourge of slavery throughout the island.
An interesting correlation that is even more relevant today and this year as we join the rest of the world in marking the 200th Anniversary of the Abolition of the Trade in Enslaved Africans – by the British Parliament.
I hope you are ready for a brief but interesting history lesson this morning as I am going to share with you what you will all concur is an exciting marketing opportunity in this Bicentenary Year.
The story begins with the reputed fountains at Bath in St. Thomas. The spring was discovered by a runaway slave named Jacob in 1695. Jacob it is said instinctively soothed his beaten body and wounds with the water and noticed that very quickly they were healed. He returned to the slave plantation and obtained his freedom by sharing the location with his slave master. An early story of entrepreneurship wouldn’t you say.
In 1699 the government bought 1130 acres with the spring and built the Bath of St Thomas the Apostle, then formed a corporation to found the town of Bath and administer the hospital. Thirty slaves built the road and hospital that offered free treatment to the ill and infirm.
The waters contain sulfur, magnesium, lime and other minerals and have therapeutic value for treating skin problems and rheumatism.
This brings us to Milk River Baths, also rooted in our slave history, the story begins with a slave owned by a man named Jonathan Ludford.
He was beaten by his master and ran away into the forest .The slave came upon the Milk River Bath and washed his wounds. The bath soothed his wounds and they began to heal. Upon returning to the slave village his slave master agreed not punish him if he told him the location of the spring. The area was then fenced off and this slave was given the duty to guard it. The property that the springs were on, were later willed to the government. They built the first bath on the property in 1794 and opened it to public that year.
As many of you might be aware Milk River BathMilk River Bath 9 times as active as bath in England, 50 times as active as Vichy in France3 times as active as Karlsbad in Austria And 54 times as active as Baden in Switzerland Making the Milk River Baths the most naturally radioactive water source in the world accordingly bathers are limited to a maximum of fifteen minutes of contact and or immersion.
The next Natural Spa source that I will mention this morning is Rockforth Mineral Spas that has been highly sought after since the 1600s and is known to be more radioactive than Bath in St. Thomas. In addition to the “Healing Streams” Jamaica also has a long proud traditions of utilizing natural herbs and remedies through generations old techniques to “noint” – or in proper English to anoint swollen, bruised or battered limbs with remarkable results.
Then there is the manner in which many of our meals are prepared, the sequence of applying heat and the indigenous technologies that allow water and other juices to drip from meats passed on from the days of the Tainos and referred popularly today as “Jerk”.
All have been severally proven to be better or more wholesome than other forms of preparing food.
I can hear you asking “Where is she going with this?”
Let me tell you, as countries such as Jamaica contend with the challenge of Economic Development we must constantly seek to leverage those resources and processes for which we have an advantageous edge over our competitors.
It is after all the comparative advantages that we have naturally that if converted to quality saleable commodities will redound to economic growth and development.
So finally I reach the bridge of my remarks this morning.
The sector for which I have ministerial responsibilities and the sector in which your activities fall is guided by The Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development, which has become the yardstick by which the sector measures itself.
The Master Plan identifies five critical objectives [Five by the way has become a very important number in the Jamaican vernacular]
All of which are critical signposts that are directly linked to the Health, Wellness and Spa Sectors. As these sectors and the issues that will be deliberated during this symposium and as you move forward perfectly illustrate the objectives and outcomes envisaged by The Master Plan.
Growth based on a sustainable market position: It is agreed that this sustainable market position must be based on Jamaica’s natural, cultural, historic and built heritage. Herbs, health and wellness are relevant on all counts. Also important are the stories we use in marketing and promoting these assets.
YES! That’s why I went through the history lesson!
Enhancing the visitor experience: We know that counting the numbers is not enough, but that every moment must count, yielding enthusiastic referrals. (Of course we know of the spiritual rebirth and rejuvenation associated with professional spa treatments)
Community based development: Locating attractions from oases in the city to deep rural environments, will diversify the product, and allow a wider range of local communities to play an active role in managing the visitor experience. This can also play a key role at slowing the rural-urban drift through meaningful, rewarding work close to home.
Yes! That’s why I also linked the geography lesson with the history lesson as Bath and Milk River fall well outside of the Urban reach.
An inclusive industry: We KNOW that tourism will only be sustained if we have attractions which spread the joys of the opportunities to serve and the resultant intake. In this sense, the physician and traditional medical care givers are as important to health tourism as the herbalist and other purveyors of holistic health and wellness.
Environmental sustainability: If ever there was a natural fit – this is certainly it. What is good for human health and wellness must be good for the environment, and vice versa.
And yes, that is why I gave the philosophy lessons, as today’s consumers will simply reject our destinations and products if unreasonable harm is caused to the natural environment by the development we are seeking to promote.
So you will understand why these discussions are so important – and why the government of which I am apart has invested so much legislative and policy resources in ensuring that this sector is developed in a suitable and sustainable way.
You will also understand why I have listed the resources I did as these reflect the ones on the front burner of this administration for development.
You will also understand why I have invested such personal passion in the carriage of my responsibilities with respect to this sector and why through the Tourism Product Development Company, The Tourism Enhancement Fund and The Jamaica Tourist Board – in conjunction with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust and the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission – Five of the Agencies in the Ministry of Tourism, Entertainment and Culture -[A tell you five is a magical and important number in today’s Jamaica]Have all been mandated to work in unison on providing the appropriate focus and response to the needs of the sector with the sole objective of leveraging Jamaica’s comparative advantage in this area and to be available to assist similarly throughout the region recognizing that as we compete with each other we are one Caribbean destination.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are grateful for this opportunity to partner with the private sector here and abroad and I wish you another successful Symposium and again HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY.

JIS Social