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Remarks by Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, at the Commissioning Ceremony of the Hyperbaric Chamber at the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory, St. Ann on Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I am very pleased to be participating in the commissioning of this new Hyperbaric Chamber, which plays a vital role in the treatment of scuba diving accidents on behalf of the emergency health services. The chamber is a substantial investment in our drive towards promoting dive tourism, while assisting the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory in executing its role and meeting its objectives. 

The Ministry is delighted to be a partner in this acquisition, through the initiative of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, TEF, to provide part funding for the purchase of this essential piece of equipment.  This was done through grant funding of €100,000 which was extended to the Centre for Marine Sciences (CMS) at the University of the West Indies (UWI) to facilitate the design, construction, acquisition and commissioning of this new, first-world rated Hyperbaric Treatment facility. 

The fact is, the TEF is strategically looking at funding programmes and projects that will drive increased visitor arrivals, stimulate job creation and income generation for our locals.

As our economy continues to go through tough economic times, the resultant ripple effects across our productive sectors are being felt.  For we are cognizant of the strong cross linkages tourism has with other industries including manufacturing, agriculture and transportation to name a few.

I believe we have been experiencing a transition in our industry that, coupled with the persisting global economic conditions in markets such as the US, North America and the UK, has substantially affected our industry performance. 

I want to therefore take this opportunity to update the nation on these activities and how we have been addressing them. 

The fact is ladies and gentlemen, it should be no surprise to hear that the economic climate of these countries, being our major source markets, continue to directly impact our economy and in particular our local tourism sector.  

We know for example the UK has been struggling through a triple dip recession.  This has had significant negative impact on a major international travel agency brand, Thomas Cook. That company owns Sunquest, a tour operator that operates the Thomas Cook air charter service on which Jamaica has relied greatly for airlift out of Canada. Thomas Cook’s internal problems have led to a realignment of its business, which included disbanding the airline in Canada. This, in addition to difficulties being experienced by Transat Canada, has resulted in a shortfall of 20,000 seats to Jamaica.

On the local scene we are seeing significant dislocation and transitions taking place.  One of our local stalwart brands has been releasing its major properties, while other established brands join our industry: Blue Diamond Resorts has taken over the Trelawny Beach Hotel, in which 349 rooms have been off the market that would have normally been used by Canadian visitors.  Melia Hotels has taken over the Braco Village, Karisma Resorts has taken over the Poinciana in Negril and RIU Resorts has 250 upscale rooms under construction in Montego Bay.

In addition we are seeing positive investment interest from regional financial conglomerate, Sagicor Group, as they acquire their third hotel, to be flagged as a Jewel resort.

Ladies and gentlemen, suffice to say as these transitions and contractions occur, they continue to affect our activity levels. 

Going forward we are expecting to see the results of our marketing initiatives and market and product diversification strategies yield fruit.

As you know, we have been aggressively diversifying our source markets.  We have successfully broken into the Latin American market and have made significant headway in removing the barriers to travel with the relaxing of the visa requirements for nationals from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama, in addition to the airlift arrangements with Copa.  

This summer, Copa, having started with two flights to Jamaica is now providing four flights per week to Kingston and four to Montego Bay. This, as we witness the relaxation of the visa regime taking effect offers great opportunity for Jamaica in Latin America.  

The Eastern European markets are showing great potential, with Russia in particular starting to produce good numbers. Recently we announced the decision of cabinet to approve the waiving of visa requirements for nationals of Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine.  Another success as we move to further open these markets.

The UK market will show improvements this summer as Virgin Atlantic increases to three weekly flights into Montego Bay, up from two for last summer. 

Ladies and gentlemen, our tourism sector is still vibrant and as we go through these transitions, we expect to see strong investment commitment resulting in increased room stock, further bolstering the product.

The TEF will continue to partner in supporting programmes and projects such as this new hyperbaric facility as we look to expand our tourism product offering and diversify our markets.

Today our collaboration with The University of the West Indies Centre for Marine Sciences in the acquisition of this new Hyperbaric Chamber is an example of one such successful partnership.

I am confident the Discovery Bay Marine Lab will continue to add value to the tourism product as we work together towards creating a sustainable tourism industry.  

Thank you.