JIS News

In recent times, the tourist industry has been delivering, with performance improving each year. Today, it is ranked among the top five of the world’s most favoured destinations, and is viewed as one of the major catalysts for growth of the country’s economy.
Audrey Marks, Chairman of the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), one of the Government agencies that is being restructured to push the sector forward, notes that Jamaica is at a crossroads in terms of its economic development, and “tourism is one of the sectors that have been identified that can be catalysts for transformation of the economy”.
“In the case of tourism, over the past 40 years we have been doing some amount of marketing and development, but we have never really put a focus on tourism as our major industry. This is the first time we are saying, let tourism be the catalyst for growth,” Miss Marks tells JIS News. She says that the current worldwide situation of war, diseases, and climatic conditions has made Jamaica an even more attractive tourist destination.
“We have to position ourselves to become a major mecca for tourists to visit, so we have to ensure that we have attractions to entice them to come here, apart from our destination,” she says.
Miss Marks points out that it is for this reason why TPDCo is being restructured. “The restructuring is to focus TPDCo in becoming a much more project oriented company in terms of being the facilitator of development of small and major attractions, and especially getting communities involved and understanding the benefits of tourism to them”.
“We all know about tourism, but we don’t see how it benefits us to be involved or to say this is our business too. Our role is to become very focus in sharing that information, showing people how they can benefit and facilitating major developments in the industry,” she adds.
Restructuring of the agency began in October last year, with the major move being the appointment of a new Executive Director, Michael Muirhead.
“We have had some successes so far, in that we have been meeting with persons and organizations about the opportunities that are in tourism and there have been good responses,” Miss Marks notes.
She says the company has also been meeting with various investors and other persons who have ideas as to what they want to do in the tourist industry, and that TPDCo is committed to facilitating them, whether it is with funding sources or technical assistance, or to help with business plans.
The Chairman explains that TPDCo will be taking a three-tier approach as it relates to tourism, with the first focusing on outreach, to attract persons who are interested in tourism.
At this level, she notes that a Challenge Fund is in existence and has made available between 50,000 Pounds Sterling and 1 million Pounds Sterling to persons who have plans that can be approved for this grant funding.
“We want to reach out to persons to say, let us help you channel your ideas, your energy and your business, especially those that have to do with tourism,” she says.
Miss Marks points out that what the industry needs is an injection of more broad-based attractions, citing as examples, Great Houses and natural wonders, which can be developed as attractions.
For the second approach, the Chairman says the company wants to focus on the tourist resorts of Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Port Antonio, Negril and Kingston. “We want to start working on plans to make the locations look more like resorts, focusing on cleaner streets and beautification. We have started to speak with our corporate partners to see how we can redesign and have those places more attractive as resorts,” she says.
Work has already started in Port Antonio, which is being spearheaded by the Port Authority of Jamaica. “At the third level, we want to look at three major projects that will enhance and diversify our tourism product, and one of these projects will be sports tourism in the area of golf,” she says.
“The second is in the area of music. The music project is going to be a major focus, and we will be working with sector interests to come up with something that will really showcase this side of Jamaica,” Miss Marks tells JIS News.
The Chairman notes that for the third project, the focus will be on heritage and culture.
Asked about challenges faced during the period of restructuring, Miss Marks mentions communication. “As we try to restructure ourselves to be a project company, a company focusing on product development, we have to ensure that everybody understands what is happening and buy into it. Otherwise, there is going to be fear as to what this change may mean personally, and sometimes that can cause hesitation in terms of involvement,” she explains.
The second challenge, she says, relates to crime and how the country is trying to deal with it. “While we have identified that this is one of the key industries that will take us to the next level, we have to, at the same time, realize how fragile it is. We do have a high crime rate . and it can do tremendous damage,” she points out.
Miss Marks is confident that TPDCo will rise to the challenge and help put Jamaica on a firm footing as it relates to tourism.
She predicts that within five years, at least two of the major projects will be visible. “I believe that by then, at least three of the resorts should be looking like well laid out resorts. We will also see a much broader understanding of the tourism industry by our people and more spending from the industry reaching a wide cross section of our people,” she adds. Miss Marks hopes that the spin off from tourism will go back into education. “I would like to believe that the economic benefits of the industry will start going back into the resources of the country, so that more can be put into some areas that need assistance, such as education, so that many more people will be able to contribute,” she says.
Tourism is Jamaica’s largest foreign exchange earner, contributing approximately 50 per cent of total gross foreign exchange earnings from the productive sectors. It is also responsible for direct employment of 75,000 persons. Another 90,000 jobs are generated through indirect employment.

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