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Message by Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill Minister of Tourism and Entertainment to mark the beginning of Tourism Awareness Week

My fellow Jamaicans…..It is that time of the year again, the commencement of  Tourism Awareness Week, when, as a nation we are encouraged to reflect on the importance of our tourism sector and how it has shaped our economy and served as a catalyst for economic growth. As we celebrate Tourism Awareness Week, I want to encourage all Jamaicans, both here at home and abroad, to join us in playing your part in supporting tourism.

For as long as we can remember visitors to our country have refered to it as the “the fairest isle that eyes have ever beheld”. In fact tourism is one of the few key industries in which Jamaica enjoys both a competitive and comparative advantage and remains the largest source of foreign exchange earnings for our economy, earning some 2 billion US dollars last year, whilst providing thousands of jobs and embracing numerous other sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing and transportation.

It is therefore critical that together, we all support it.

Tourism Awareness Week, which runs from December 9-15, this year, will be observed under the theme: “Tourism For All, All For Tourism.” This simply means that while we seek to ensure that every Jamaican can benefit from tourism, similarly every Jamaican has a role to play in supporting this vital sector which is the life-blood of our economy.

This year’s observation of Tourism Awareness Week takes on added significance as we celebrate our 50th anniversary of Independence and recall the tremendously eventful and exciting year we have had as a sector and indeed as a nation.

We can all recall when Prince Harry visited Jamaica earlier this year, generating images across the world posing with our own Usain Bolt, who later led the Jamaican team as they set the world ablaze with their stellar athletic performances at the London Olympics. As Jamaica’s presence in London influenced the world, our Prime Minister was recognized on TIME Magazine’s 2012 list of 100 most influential people in the world.  

Jamaica was selected amongst Caribbean nations to host the Caribbean Tourism Summit which saw the convergence on Jamaica of the region’s and the world’s leading tourism players, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, UNWTO, and the World Travel and Tourism Council, WTTC.

Our influence on the world tourism stage was further extended later this year as we were elected first Vice-Chairman of the World Tourism Organization Executive Council (EC) for 2013 at their meeting in Campeche, Mexico.

As we witness the expanse of the reach and influence of our brand, we can also say that we have taken numerous strides over the last 50 years to develop our tourism product as Jamaica’s standing as a world-class destination is cemented. This has been further evidenced by the many awards the island is honoured with annually, as we once again swept the recent staging of the World Travel Awards.

Jamaica is seen worldwide as a trendsetting and unique destination, viewed by many as a model to replicate. Despite the many challenges throughout the year, including the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy on the East Coast of the United States, and the US elections, Jamaica’s visitor arrivals continue to increase. Preliminary figures indicate that between January and November, Jamaica welcomed approximately 1.7 million stopover visitors; an increase of 2.4 percent over the same period last year; while cruise arrivals rose by 26.6 percent between January and October 2012.

Up to October, Jamaica earned approximately 1.7 billion US dollars, which represents a 3.2 percent increase over the 1.6 billion we earned for the same period last year.
Every Jamaican should be proud of the achievements of our unique destination.

I want to implore everyone, whether you work in tourism or not, to consider what each of us can do to enhance Jamaica’s tourism product; a product that attracts millions of visitors here annually.

The observation of Tourism Awareness Week also coincides with the start of the Winter Tourist Season, which officially begins on December 15.

We have exciting news to share for the season. We’ve made great strides in diversifying our markets and in this regard have started to have much success in securing  new airlift for Jamaica as we target new markets while maintaining our seat capacities.  

For the Winter Tourist Season, we’ll commence an inaugural non-stop flight from Moscow, Russia, starting on January 1st, 2013 into Montego Bay. We have also confirmed flight service from the Czech Republic starting December 28. In addition, there will also be non-stop service from Paris, France.

Out of the UK, we’ll add another flight from Gatwick, London that will become a weekly service starting in May 2013. While British Airways will maintain its three flights to Kingston, and Virgin Atlantic Airways its three flights to Montego Bay.

Aggressively pounding the pavement in markets such as the UK and Russia have paid off tremendously.

We are also focusing on Latin America and I am pleased to announce that after discussions with COPA Airlines they have confirmed that they will be doubling their services from 4 flights weekly to 8 flights per week starting this winter.
Approximately 1.1 million seats have already been secured for the upcoming winter tourist season. This will allow us to bring in more visitors for the upcoming winter.
These visitors will come from our traditional markets, including the U.S., Canada, UK, and Europe, as well as other markets such as Latin America and Eastern Europe.
We’ve been highly successful in utilizing public relations and advertising and will continue to implement aggressive publicity programmes spearheaded by the Jamaica Tourist Board. These include yearlong destination wedding campaigns, innovative social media initiatives, travel agent specialist programmes, and delving deeper into niche travel markets. We will also participate in select trade and consumer shows, such as the upcoming Caribbean Travel Marketplace and The New York Times Travel Show.

We anticipate 2013 to be a ground-breaking year for Jamaica. We’ll continue to tap new markets for opportunities, while boosting destination marketing efforts in these markets.

As we observe Tourism Awareness Week I want to express my sincere appreciation to all the committed workers in the sector. Both those who are directly and those indirectly employed to the sector.

I want to thank the hard working team at the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and all its agencies. I also want to thank the members of the resort boards and all our private sector partners - the hoteliers, the attractions, the ground transportation operators, the airport and immigration workers, craft vendors, and all the other stakeholders in our industry. I must thank the teams at our regional offices overseas and our local and overseas travel partners.  

Fellow Jamaicans, I wish to thank each and every one of you who has given support to our tourism sector and have in one way or another contributed to the vast and uniquely intricate flavor that is brand Jamaica.  

To each and everyone I say, your hard work and dedication in delivering excellent service allows us to continue to achieve the level of success and international recognition that Jamaica consistently receives.

We are counting on your support in ensuring that tourism continues to grow.

While our beaches are unsurpassed, and our food is internationally revered, our success is because of you, the people of Jamaica….you are our most prized asset.

Thank you, and God bless you all.