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Message from the Honourable Dr. Wykeham McNeill Minister of Tourism & Entertainment for the start of the Winter Tourist Season which begins on December 15, 2013

My fellow Jamaicans …

It’s that time of year again, when, as a nation we are encouraged to reflect on the importance of the tourism sector, as we welcome the start of the 2013/2014 winter tourist season which begins on December 15.

Jamaica like many of our neighbours in the wider Caribbean region has faced numerous challenges over the past year. However, as a destination we have much to give thanks for as we have surmounted those challenges and performed well. We are optimistic about the prospects for this season and can say with confidence that Jamaica is on track for a good winter season!

None of this could have been achieved without the commitment of our industry workers, our valued travel partners and our warm and friendly people who make our visitors feel welcome. And for this I say thanks.

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 also wish to thank the committed team at the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and all its agencies.

As we enter the new winter tourist season we have much to be hopeful about. Preliminary estimates for January through November show that we have already welcomed over 1.8 million stop over visitors. And if everything continues on track we will have a landmark year as we should welcome for the first time over two million stopover visitors in a year.

The start of each winter tourist season brings into greater focus the importance of this industry to our economic well being. We anticipate that the country will earn close to 2 Billion US Dollars this year.  When tourism grows, the economy does well and every Jamaican benefits, so let’s all continue to do our part to make our visitors welcome.

This industry, as you are aware, provides thousands of jobs and has linkages with numerous other sectors such as agriculture, manufacturing, entertainment and transportation.  However, our success is dependent on YOU…the people of Jamaica, who ensure our product is world class.

There is every indication that this winter is shaping up to be better than last winter. We are encouraged by the number of advanced bookings and the excitement that brand JAMAICA still generates in both our traditional and non-traditional markets.

And as we boost our marketing of destination Jamaica the Ministry along with all our industry partners are making every effort through our policies and programmes to ensure that Jamaica remains attractive to both investors and visitors.

Among the initiatives we have undertaken is the establishment of the Linkages Hub within the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment. This crucial initiative has been undertaken to help to maximize our ability to retain foreign exchange earnings and stimulate growth in sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing by better informing local farmers and suppliers of the needs of the tourism sector and helping them to meet that growing demand. This helps to boost profits and produce jobs for more Jamaicans.

My ministry has also been working in partnership with the Ministry of National Security to facilitate ease of travel for our nationals and visitors passing through our international airports in Montego Bay and Kingston. This venture has been very successful as the ease with which persons pass through both airports has improved significantly. And these improvements have not gone unnoticed. Only recently Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport was recognized for improvements at the facility and received the first place award in passenger processing from the Airports Council International.

But there are still some challenges and more to be done, and we are moving to address these in order to further enhance the travel experience at our airports for both Jamaicans and our visitors alike.

We have already begun to see the results of deliberate strategies including easing visa restrictions to diversify our source markets and targeting new and emerging markets such as Russia and Latin America .which have been fuelling an increase in the number of visitors from key markets.

We have had much success in securing  new airlift for Jamaica as we target these new markets while maintaining our seat capacities with new airlines landing at our airports while others are increasing their seating capacity by using bigger aircraft. Just last month we welcomed upgraded service by Russian carrier, Transaero Airlines and we also have flights out of Stockholm and Munich.

As we continue to attract more visitors from non-English speaking countries, we have also started a special language training programme for industry workers to enhance customer service. We expect some 300 frontline workers including customs officers, hotel workers, craft traders and red cap porters to be trained in Russian while Spanish will follow in a few months. The feedback has been extremely positive and classes are currently over-subscribed.

I am also pleased to say that our tourism sector is becoming increasingly attractive to investors. After a long hiatus, investment in hotels in Jamaica has resumed. This year alone, we have seen nearly $20 Billion worth of investment. This has also brought new brands to the mix, such as Hyatt, Melia, Royalton and Karima, further contributing to the diverse character of our industry.

The prospects are very encouraging on the cruise side as well. Next year we expect to have growth as we are projecting 1.4 million visitors, which would make it a record year. We have numerous new vessels making inagural calls in Jamaica in all three major ports. Just recently our cruise ports received seven ships in a single day with at least two in each of our ports in Montego Bay, Falmouth and Ocho Rios, with over 30,000 persons onboard. This and the increases we are enjoying in airlift auger well for a robust winter season, extending through 2014.

I wish to implore each and every Jamaican, whether you work directly or indirectly in the industry, to consider what you can do to support and enhance Jamaica’s tourism – a product that attracts millions of visitors from around the world and brings in millions of much needed foreign exchange annually.

Let us work together to keep Jamaica a destination where visitors return time and time again, because of the lifelong friendships they make, and our continued commitment to product enhancements, development of new accommodations, exciting attractions, our unique culture and unparalleled events.

And let us all remember that together, working as one team, with a common vision, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.

Thank You and God bless You!