|Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett (right), and President of the University of Technology (UTech), Professor Errol Morrison, sign copies of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the establishment of a Hospitality School in Montego Bay, St. James, during a media briefing at the Ministry’s New Kingston offices.|
Despite the challenges, posed by the onset of the global economic downturn impacting on several of Jamaica’s key revenue earning sectors, this year the country’s tourism sector fared relatively well.
Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, and newly appointed Director of Tourism, and Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) Chairman, John Lynch, spearheaded the charge by sector interests and stakeholders, which saw several initiatives and activities, aimed at preserving and strengthening Jamaica’s position in the global marketplace as an attractive vacation option for both local and foreign clientele, being pursued.
The activities undertaken incorporated a series of aggressive marketing campaigns by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), at home and abroad, targeting visitors and locals, for which upwards of US$3 million was budgeted.
The activities kicked off in January with the month-long Jamaica Winter Rescue Programme in the United States. This campaign, undertaken in conjunction with the national carrier, Air Jamaica, entailed the strategic placement of ceiling banners, large floor mats and large-scale posters at commuter terminals in several cities, including New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Chicago.
These featured depictions highlighted and promoted Jamaica as a “dream escape” vacation destination. This, along with marketing of the annual Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival, staged in Montego Bay St. James, and overall marketing and advertising schedules proved impactful, as signs of increased visitors started to show from as early as January.
At a news conference, Minister Bartlett said some 138,000 tourists visited Jamaica during January, representing a 3.4 per cent increase over the corresponding period in 2008.
“At the (end of the) first week of January, we were down 6.4 per cent; the second week we were down 0.3 per cent; the following week, we were up 1.3 per cent, then 1.8 per cent”.
With the lion’s share of Jamaica’s tourists traditionally coming from the United States, visitor arrivals from neighbouring Canada during the first three months of the year were particularly impressive. The island received some 118,374 stopover arrivals from that country, representing a 27.7 per cent increase over the corresponding period last year.
Figures up to the end September, showed Jamaica recording an overall 3.7 per cent increase in arrivals, with some 40,000 more tourists vacationing in the island compared to the corresponding period last year, primarily attributable to the marketing, advertising and promotional thrust, the Tourism Minister contended.
“In the face of the economic downturn, we went ahead with an aggressive marketing approach, increasing our advertising budget by some US$3 million in order to be able to buy better and to buy more, thereby saturating the areas in our originating markets,” Mr. Bartlett said.
Greatly encouraged by high visibility Jamaica gained from the success of its athletes at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games in China, and the momentum carried over to the 12th World Athletics Championships in Germany in August, Minister Bartlett visited host city, Berlin, in a bid to meet and facilitate discussions with key tourism stakeholders regarding initiatives to boost tourist arrivals out of that part of Europe.
The Minister pointed out that Germany was growing steadily and presented endless possibilities for Jamaica.
“Germany is a very important market for us. It has indicated that it is the growth centre for our tourism at this time. For the first six months of the year, it has shown growth of six percent in tourist arrivals to Jamaica, which is better than the rest of Europe, including the United Kingdom. The fact is that Germany’s economy is the strongest in Europe at this time, and Jamaica has had a strong historic link with Germany,” he told JIS News.
The overseas marketing thrust also saw Jamaica hosting two familiarisation trips in February and July, with upwards of 180 travel agents, trade and business partners and journalists from China and Ecuador visiting to experience, first hand, the country’s offerings.
|WE TV's 'First Ladies Tour' travel special featuring Jamaica, premiered at the Helen Mills Theatre in New York City on Monday March 2. On hand to celebrate the occasion are (left to right): Executive Producer/Director, First Ladies Tour; Peter Greenberg; Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett; Mrs. Lorna Golding, wife of the Prime Minister; Journalist and programme host, Deborah Roberts; and Executive Producer and Chief Executive Officer of Al Roker Entertainment, Al Roker. The feature was produced for WE TV by Al Roker Entertainment.|
The trips involved several activities including: travel market workshops; meetings with local sector stakeholders and interests; and planned tours of the island’s major hotels, resorts, attractions and landmarks.
February also saw the Ministry hosting the second annual Tourism Outlook Seminar at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay, which brought together local, regional and global interests for discussions on a wide range of issues tailored towards advancing the sector.
Hundreds of overseas buyers and local suppliers flocked to the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay from May 11 to 13 for the 19th staging of the JTB’s Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX). The three day affair, in providing marketing opportunities for the local hospitality sector, brought in major travel partners for meetings with stakeholders to forge prospective business links.
On the local front, the Ministry launched the ‘Experience Jamaica’ campaign, a domestic tourism concept targeting locals, in September. The initiative was intended to encourage locals to opt for vacations at home, instead of overseas, in order to “taste, see, feel and enjoy” more of the country’s tourism product, which has made Jamaica an enduring magnet for visitors from around the world.
Speaking at the launch, Mr. Bartlett highlighted the more than $27 billion which he said Jamaicans spent on local attractions in 2007. Describing this as “encouraging”, he urged more persons to embrace the domestic tourism concept.
“Destination Jamaica offers a variety of experiences that our own Jamaicans have not yet, themselves, tasted. And it is important that they do…because…they will recognise what visitors are clamouring about and are coming here in droves to have,” he contended.
He also noted the increased retention of foreign exchange earned, preservation of jobs in the sector and the multiplier effect of the dollar which the concept would facilitate.
The crucial component of airlift capacity into the island was boosted during the second quarter of the year when Jamaicans welcomed United States-based airline Jet Blue Airways’ inaugural flight to Jamaica.
Minister Bartlett and the Tourism Director were among the 150 passengers arriving at the Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, on Jet Blue’s maiden flight from its home base at the John F. Kennedy International Airport, New York, USA on May 21.
The new link formed part of the airline’s continuing expansion in the Caribbean, and it is anticipated that it will enhance airlift services from existing and emerging markets to Jamaica.
Addressing participants at a welcome reception at the Sangster Airport, Mr. Bartlett described the partnership as a “match made in heaven.”
“As an emerging nation, an emerging airline, (like) JetBlue, meets us at the right point, as we will grow together to achieve great things, a real win-win situation,” Mr. Bartlett said.
He said that JetBlue, joining a number of other legacy carriers from North America, will give Jamaica a full wrap of the entire continent of North America; the only destination so to do.
“We are determined, therefore, to use this period, when the world is undergoing its most difficult and challenging time, to put our house in order, to create a level of security for destination Jamaica, so that when it turns, Jamaica is the only place that everyone will come,” Mr. Bartlett added.
Airlift capacity to Jamaica was further enhanced later in the year, when Montego Bay welcomed British Airways’ inaugural non-stop flight between London’s Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom and the Sangster International Airport, in October. Mr. Bartlett headed a team of officials and sector interests on hand to welcome the 280 passengers arriving.
In August, the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA) signed a $160 million contract to undertake extensive beautification and environmental work in resort areas over a six-month period.
The beautification project involved communities in and around the resort areas. It comprises a comprehensive clean-up and maintenance exercise, including: supply and installation of top soil mixtures and accessories; supply and planting of plant materials, accessories and incidentals; six months’ maintenance; traffic control mechanisms ; cutting and clearing of undergrowth and overgrowth along the roadways, verges and medians and collection and disposal of garbage.
|Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett (centre), along with Executive Directors of the National Solid Waste Management Authority (NSWMA), Mrs. Joan Gordon Webley (left), and the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), Mr. Earl Patrick, sign copies of the $160 million contract for beautification work in resort areas, at the Ministry’s New Kingston offices.|
Speaking at a media briefing at the Ministry, Mr. Bartlett pointed out that the project was part of the Spruce Up Jamaica Programme, launched in May 2008. He cited the initiative as being important, not only for creating and maintaining a pristine aesthetic appearance for visitors, but to give locals a sense of pride as well.
“Every visitor who has come to the country in the period has indicated to us, positively, their feelings about the resort cities. The leaders of the land from every walk of life all comment about how the face of Jamaica has changed: The environment looks much better and the landscape looks far more manicured. It offers us a feeling about ourselves which makes us want to do better, want to do more and remain organised and disciplined,” Mr. Bartlett said.
Executive Director of the NSWMA, Joan Gordon Webley, noted that the agency would endeavour to “do much more and… make you… proud…”
Meanwhile, some 1,250 students benefitted from the ‘Spruce Up Jamaica’ Summer Employment Programme, which saw individuals being employed in tourism entities and businesses during July and August.
The TPDCo-administered programme was aimed at creating awareness of the importance of the sector, while encouraging young persons to pursue a career in the tourism sector.
The year saw the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) earmarking upwards of $1 billion to undertake major projects.
The first project saw some $1 billion being approved for infrastructure development in squatter settlements in Montego Bay, St. James, and Ocho Rios, St. Ann. The funds, disbursed through the Ministry of Water and Housing, will be released over a two-year period, TEF Chairman, Godfrey Dyer disclosed.
Four settlements - Flankers, Norwood and Lilliput, St. James, and Shaw Park Heights, St. Ann - are scheduled to receive assistance with infrastructure development of roads, water and light.
The TEF also approved $255 million to undertake beautification of several of the island’s landmarks and sites. These included: Devon House, St. Andrew; Port Royal, Kingston; Seville Great House, St. Ann; historical buildings in Spanish Town, St. Catherine, and the Rio Nuevo Battle Site, St. Mary.
The quality and complement of tourism product options were boosted with the opening of the Flagstaff Heritage Tours Visitor Centre in St. James.
The tour offers treks along three trails leading from the Flagstaff village square, providing glimpses into the historical and cultural heritage of Maroon and British occupation and encounters, complemented by the biodiversity and rich culture offered by the current residents.
Addressing the facility’s opening, Mr. Bartlett described the development as one that would be a model for similar future ventures pursued, in the face of efforts to “diversify the offerings” to become more green-oriented and sustain the industry.
“If we are to ensure that level of sustainability, we must become very involved in green tourism, thus building a future on the preservation of our environment,” the Minister said.
|Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett (right), and Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) Chairman and Director of Tourism, Mr. John Lynch , fielding questions during a media briefing at the Ministry’s New Kingston offices.|
“I have given instructions to the review committee that is examining the Master Plan for Tourism and tweaking it, to make it more reflective of the way forward and more responsive to the new demands of tourism development,” he explained.
Contract carriage operators also came in for their share of benefits during the year, when the Tourism Ministry initiated a $500 million loan facility, to assist them in purchasing new vehicles.
Operators qualifying for the benefit were required to be members of a JTB-licensed association and tax compliant, in order to access the $1 million individual entitlement to purchase units not older than three years. The loan period spans five years with an interest rate of three per cent per annum on repayments.
With training and the overall quality of the sector’s workforce a critical part of safeguarding the industry’s viability, the Ministry, through TPDCo and the University of Technology (UTech), signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the latter to establish a Hospitality School in Montego Bay.
The institution, which will offer degree and certificate programmes, is intended to improve the standard of training and certification of the Jamaican workforce; provide supervisory/middle management training for staff in the tourism sector; and provide students with the requisite academic training and hands-on experience for placement in the industry.
As part of the MoU, UTech will operate and manage the school, with TPDCo undertaking to acquire adequate facilities to house the institution.
As part of ongoing efforts to highlight and reward excellence in the industry, the Ministry staged the inaugural Tourism Service Excellence Awards in April at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, Montego Bay.
Six individuals and six organisations from the island’s major resort areas: Kingston, Port Antonio Portland, Ocho Rios St. Ann, Montego Bay St. James, Negril Westmoreland and the South Coast were rewarded for exceptional service in the industry. Housekeeping attendant at Beaches Boscobel, St. Mary, and Island Car Rentals received the National Champion individual and organisation trophies, respectively.
With security a major concern for everyone, the Ministry responded by training and deploying the first batch of 120 Tourism Courtesy Corps officers to resort areas, islandwide. This is expected to significantly curtail harassment, and ensure the safety of vacationers, particularly those from overseas.
Meanwhile, Minister Bartlett is optimistic that there will be a surge in visitor arrivals for the 2009/10 Winter Tourist Season, which officially started on December 15. He noted that Jamaica has been able to secure some one million airlift seats for the five-month period which ends in April, 2010.
“We are looking into a Winter Season with greater hope and anticipation than last year. We have done better with our products, we have done better with our attractions overall, and we are very strong on marketing, and we are satisfied that this Winter Season is going to look good,” an upbeat Minister Bartlett stated.