64 Knutsford Boulevard, Kingston 5, Jamaica
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A very warm Westmoreland welcome everyone. I am pleased to be here today at the launch of an initiative that is very dear to my heart. As I look around at the displays of farm fresh produce, the handmade craft and locally prepared food items, I am very happy to see the strong support for the local farm and small business economies that are so important to the wellbeing of Westmorelanders.
Tourism is big business, globally and locally. It generates income, employment, and foreign-exchange earnings. I assure you, if done right, tourism can take us out of economic poverty. And I am not just talking about big business; the small man can benefit too.
I am pleased to tell you the tourism industry is doing well and showing good results. We have enjoyed a good summer after a relatively weak winter season and even with 2,000 (10%) of room inventory off the market, Jamaica’s visitor arrivals since August have bucked the regional trend for flat arrivals in 2013. In fact, we are experiencing the best October ever. January to October saw 1,659,330 visitors; that is an increase of 0.2% over the same period last year.
Arrivals at Montego Bay and Kingston in September and October are both showing increases over 2012.
Montego Bay September: 77,500 (+3.2%)
Montego Bay October: 63,890 (+10.4%)
Kingston September 20,034 (+2.6%)
Kingston October: 15,396 (+3.0%)
Kingston’s performance is particularly impressive, given the absence of the Wyndham’s 303 rooms from inventory.
Arrivals are up and we will hit the 2 million mark by year end; and bookings for the upcoming winter tourist season 2013/2014 indicate that this winter should be very, very good.
So what’s powering these positive numbers? There are a few things. In part, it is our drive to diversify our source markets; moving beyond the traditional markets in the US, Canada and Western Europe and tapping into Latin American and the Eastern European markets.
We also have good airlift arrangements in place. Starting November 1, Russia will be moving from 320 seats to over 500 seats. Then on November 7, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner will make its inaugural flight to the Caribbean, landing in Montego Bay. The extended flying range and fuel efficiency of this Dreamliner mean bigger and better things for Jamaica as it will open up new market opportunities for Jamaica, enabling us to reach deeper into Europe and Asia than had been possible before.
In addition, the waiving of visa requirements has assisted in gaining ground in Russia and opened the door to Scandinavia (Denmark, Norway, Hungary and Sweden), the Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine in Eastern Europe.
While these numbers are great for Jamaica and great for the economy, I am on a mission to ensure that every Jamaican benefits from tourism’s earnings. Tourism can only be sustainable if the man on the ground is involved and enjoys tourism’s returns.
Today’s agro-tourism farmers’ market is symbolic of the growing synergy between tourism and non-tourism sectors of the economy. It is also represents our continuing efforts to build resilience and sustainability in the industry by ensuring the economic benefits of tourism trickle down to local communities and positively impact more Jamaicans. And the presence today of Minister Clarke and Minister Hylton underscores the Government’s commitment to bringing all sectors together to ensure responsible tourism that brings benefits to wide segments of society.
Today’s agro-tourism farmers’ market is proof that with proper planning, strong linkages with the local economy can reduce leakage and help to retain the economic benefits of tourism by linking local suppliers with the tourism industry. We are bringing hoteliers in direct contact with the farmers.
Not only do these smart linkages to other sectors provide a great opportunity to increase tourism’s contribution to Jamaica’s economic development but they also support the Ministry’s mandate of “Tourism for All.” We want a more inclusive sector built on partnerships that benefits all Jamaicans.
With this in mind, the Ministry has developed relationships with a number of its partners in various sectors to make these linkages a reality. Agriculture is one of the sectors.
When you think that about one-third of all tourist spending is on food, it makes sense to target agriculture to reduce imports and increase the use of locally grown fruits and vegetables.
This is why we are here today. Because, as Mr. Perkins explained earlier, I have tasked the Tourism Linkages Council that he chairs with deepening the linkages between tourism and the rest of the economy and stimulating further growth in those areas; be it agriculture and agro-processing, the craft sector, manufacturing or entertainment.
Agro-tourism farmers’ markets like this one build stronger links between the agricultural and tourism sectors and help stimulate a vibrant local fresh produce market. They also build resilience in rural communities by developing local livelihoods, inspiring entrepreneurship and reducing the economic and social cost of imported produce.
This project also speaks to Community Tourism; another initiative that is near and dear to my heart. This type of tourism aims to include and benefit local communities and is one of the most effective ways of moving money to a broader base and redistributing wealth. The Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment is working towards the development of a Community Tourism Policy as well as a Craft Policy to govern the craft industry. Farmers’ markets like these are some of the practical, immediate programmes that we can move ahead with while we are finalizing the formal policy.
Of course, this exciting new agro-tourism project would not be possible without the Tourism Enhancement Fund; our agency which continues to support the continued development of the tourism industry as a major pillar of Jamaica’s economy.
The TEF has approved $10 million for the staging of seven Agro-tourism farmers’ markets in Negril. The concept is that Negril will be a prototype from which plans to replicate these markets in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios will be developed.
Through our partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries the regular RADA farmers’ market is being transformed into a tourism “experience” that merges buying produce direct from a farm stand, shopping for hand crafted gifts, fresh food preparation demonstrations and lively local entertainment that can be an attraction for tourists and locals alike. I would like to thank our partners – the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), the Jamaica Manufacturers’ Association (JMA), the Jamaica Business Development Corporation (JBDC) and the Rural Development Agricultural Agency (RADA) – for helping us to make this agro-tourism venture a reality.
Tourism holds the key to improving the socio-economic conditions of persons living in tourist destinations like Jamaica. In this regard, the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment and its agencies will continue to pursue opportunities for fruitful partnerships with the private sector to develop the country as a tourist destination to the benefit of all Jamaicans. I charge all the major tourism stakeholders to do the same and partner with their communities to foster economic prosperity.