64 Knutsford Boulevard, Kingston 5, Jamaica
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Members of the media, Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.
As Jamaica hosts Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2014, I welcome the opportunity to meet with you to provide you with an update on destination Jamaica. Of course allow me to extend a warm welcome and indeed welcome back to many of you, as you cover this all-important tradeshow.
It is very important for us to host events such as Caribbean Travel Marketplace. This is the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association’s (CHTA) premier tourism marketing event for the region and the single most important business to business tourism event for the Caribbean in any given year. It brings together the major players in the industry to foster further growth in this all-important sector.
Jamaica is hosting this event for the fifth time and we are geared to capitalize on this. While marketers from our sister Caribbean islands will be alongside us selling their products and services, we have the added advantage of the international travel media and the buyers being able to experience what we have to offer first-hand.
As a country we have good reason to be optimistic about the continued growth of our tourism industry. As a travel destination, we have made great strides and in many respects are ahead of some of our competitors.
We ended the calendar year 2013 on a very high note, welcoming for the first time, over two million stopover visitors in any one year and earning an estimated two billion US Dollars. This was achieved through the hard work of all our valuable stakeholders as well as strategic marketing.
At this point, it is appropriate for me to acknowledge the performance of the Jamaica Tourist Board, which has – once again – been awarded the Baxter Travel Media Award as the most outstanding tourism promotion board working the Canadian market. Jamaica also received the award for Best Honeymoon Destination. We are grateful to the various players in our industry, whose performance enabled us to achieve those distinctions and to Baxter Travel Media for the recognition.
A variety of factors comprise the formula that accounts for Jamaica’s tourism performance to date and give cause for optimism about the future. We expect positive performance in the cruise market this year. In fact, we are anticipating that our ports in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Falmouth will enjoy record cruise passenger arrivals this year. Work continues to create the appropriate environment that will encourage our cruise visitors to linger longer and venture further while ashore. Various product improvement initiatives are underway that touch on the physical environment as well as the experiential.
We expect continued growth in stopover arrivals in response to our thrust into new and emerging markets, which is taking place while we work to build even greater momentum in our traditional markets. Our efforts to position Jamaica squarely in the aspirations of consumers in new markets have been effective. Easing of visa restrictions has encouraged a growing demand for travel to our island and has been met by a response from carriers, resulting in new airlift from non-traditional regions.
We have every reason to believe that this year will be another successful year for the industry, especially in light of the fact that there continues to be positive growth signs in the economies of our traditional North American markets. We also started to see growth in arrivals out of the UK last summer after five years of decline. We are currently running 4.3 percent above last year’s performance year to date. Building on that there is an expectation that we will do well in that market this year.
All this comes against the background of resurgence in local and foreign investment in the industry. In the past year we have seen substantial investment in the hotel sector, with the transition of ownership, expansions and new hotels under construction. This restores momentum to a thrust that began in the late 1990s, when major effort was made by our government to attract investment in new hotels. At the time, extensive improvements in infrastructure were being initiated by the public sector and the investment community responded with a mighty surge between 2000 and 2009.
In a very real sense, those efforts and the developments they yielded, represent the groundwork that led to our recent record arrivals. We are therefore confident that, given the increases in airlift that we have achieved and the resumption of growth in the accommodation sector, Jamaica’s visitor arrivals are likely to sustain the trajectory they have recently attained.
We have attracted some powerful hotel brands to our island. The arrival of names like Hyatt, Riu’s Palace, Blue Diamond, Melia, Karisma and Marriott is a very valuable development. They bring marketing muscle to our efforts and resonate well with the seasoned and discerning consumer. I am also pleased that Jamaica continues to be able to source investment locally and to be able to draw your attention to three Jewel properties now owned by the Sagicor group. I am also pleased to point to the revival of the legendary Trident Hotel and Trident Castle in Port Antonio, now owned and operated by Michael Lee-Chin’s Portland Holdings Inc., which have literally been born again and already are enjoying high occupancies.
These developments are increasing our room inventory across the island. You are well aware, I am sure, of the east-west highway along the north coast of our island and the impact it has had on growth in the sector. We are now served by two fine international airports and I am pleased to advise that the north-south leg of our highway system is well underway and the first phase is scheduled for completion in July of this year. The entire north-south link will be complete in the first quarter of 2016, representing a major advancement in travel to and around Jamaica. With a highway link between the south and north coasts of the island, access to Ocho Rios and Port Antonio through the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston will be even more viable.
The Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment has been collaborating with other ministries and agencies of government and the numerous entities that provide products and services to the sector to ensure the continued growth of our industry. To that end we have relaxed visa restrictions to a number of countries in Latin America and Eastern Europe.
Not only is the arrival experience at our airports quicker and more comfortable, but it is also a great deal simpler for Latin American and eastern European consumers to act on a desire to visit Jamaica. Our relaxation of visa regulations has driven demand and encouraged an increase in airlift between Jamaica and markets that were out of our reach until recently. Our work in this regard is continuing.
We are also investing in our human resources and are making language training in conversational Spanish and Russian available, at no cost, to workers in the industry.
Work to improve our infrastructure continues and our Tourism Enhancement Fund has been integral to this effort, providing funds for extensive improvement work in resort areas. In Negril this is creating a dual-purpose walkway/jogging track and a sea park. In Ocho Rios it has enabled a transformational project that will create major improvements for pedestrian enjoyment of the city by residents and visitors alike.
The TEF has also provided funding for the refurbishing of the Naval Hospital in historic Port Royal and several projects in Montego Bay that will enhance visitor experiences at several levels. Additionally, well over a billion Jamaican dollars has been invested in cultural activities and the renovation and preservation of heritage attractions, including Kingston’s Devon House, former home of Jamaica’s first millionaire of African descent; at the Seville Heritage Park, a valuable archaeological site at which evidence of the British, Spanish and Taino civilizations have been found; the birth places of our National Heroes; and in Falmouth, the most intact example of a Georgian town in the region.
These investments by the public sector add depth and historic value to our product and complement the investments made by the private sector in attractions. In fact, we can claim without fear of contradiction, that Jamaica offers the visitor a wider range of tours, activities and attractions than any other destination in the English speaking Caribbean. Our product offers greater variety and, at every level, is of the highest standard. The various sub sectors of the industry: the tours and the attractions are as world-competitive as our hotel sector. So much so, in fact that, like our hotel sector, we have been exporting our product to other destinations in the region.
Our pursuit of excellence is relentless and work is underway in the craft sector to produce an “Authentic Jamaican” product line and we are establishing ways to further integrate our entertainment industry into our tourism sector.
This year we will introduce “90 Days of Summer”, a series of island-wide entertainment events that will begin May 15 of each year and end August 15; These events will essentially be bookended by U.S. Memorial Day – the last Monday in May - and U.S. Labour Day – the first Monday in September, and are intended to present one cohesive tourism and entertainment product for our visitors.
The events will include all creative sectors – film, fashion, sports, literary arts, animation and music and other JTB calendared entertainment for each year – with room to include new, creative programming. They will broaden the scope of our promotional efforts and enhance the visitor experience by utilising the entertainment resources for which Jamaica is widely admired.
Imminently, we will harness the appeal of our music in the Reggae Month: It’s Kingston for February promotion. Building on celebrations that have been staged during this period, we will bring to market a plethora of musical events that will afford visitors the opportunity to enjoy live music at various venues in our capital, Kingston.
As we enter 2014 the prospects for our tourism sector remain very bright. We enjoy increased airlift and service by new carriers from traditional markets; we continue to enjoy success in penetrating new markets and attracting new airlift from Europe; we have in place a new advertising campaign and continue to attract new hotel investment.
We are confident that the many appealing qualities of our destination will continue to attract visitors from across the globe. The indomitable yet warm spirit of the Jamaican people, our rich cultural heritage, our music, our food, and the diversity of our history will continue to be the qualities foremost in Brand Jamaica’s appeal.
So over the next two days that are left of Caribbean Marketplace, I want to encourage you to sample the many exceptional offerings Jamaica has to give. We want you to experience, our destination and see why we have millions of visitors coming to our shores time and time again.