64 Knutsford Boulevard, Kingston 5, Jamaica
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As Minister of Tourism and Entertainment I consider it a distinct privilege to be able to address you during this important period – Diplomatic Week. Many of you I have already had the pleasure of meeting - we’ve had fruitful bilateral talks, and interacted in various social settings. Others of you are new to the island; and to you I say welcome to Jamaica. I look forward to meeting with you for a merging of minds as we seek new and innovative ways for our nations to work together to the benefit of our citizenry and countries overall.
You will find Jamaica to be a land of variety,…a melting pot of cultures and customs. Members of the diplomatic corps who have been in the island for some time would already know much about Jamaica. But for the benefit of those who are new and because I have such a deep sense of pride in my home land, I want to just spend a few minutes highlighting key features of our outstanding tourism product.
The Appeal of Jamaica
As you would have undoubtedly noticed, this is a very beautiful country, blessed with beautiful people. Our warmth comes not only from the wonderful sunshine that we have year round, but it also radiates from the people. So as you travel the length and breadth of this land, be prepared for an immersion into a totally Caribbean cultural experience. You will hear Jamaican creole, seemingly frequently punctuated by “yeah man” and “irie,” the latter meaning that everything is alright.
The Jamaican dialect and brand Jamaica overall have gained international appeal with the most recent example of this being the Volkswagen Super Bowl Game Day television commercial which uses reggae icon Jimmy Cliff’s new rendition of the Partridge Family theme song "Get Happy." Though controversial in some quarters, I believe this is a distinct acknowledgement of the global strength and appeal of our music, language, mannerisms and culture which augers well for brand Jamaica.
I’m sure that you would have heard of the high caliber of our beaches. And let me say that everything that you have heard is true… and more. However I will add that one of the instances of the variety that you will see is in our landscape. Jamaica is called the ‘land of wood and water’ and this is for a very good reason. Just leave the beach and drive inland into the mountains and you will experience it for yourself.
In particular head for the Blue Mountains, which is a rainforest, or the Cockpit Country. More than 200 species of birds live in the Blue Mountains, most of which are exclusively neotropical. Half of the approximately 500 species of flowering plants there are found nowhere else on earth. In general our many botanical gardens such as Castleton, and Shaw Park, attest to the specialness of our flora.
The Cockpit Country is another nature lover’s paradise. Rich in history and culture, the region is riddled with towering cliffs, limestone caves, underground rivers and flowing waterfalls. The dense, wet limestone forest there is home to exotic plants, birds and reptiles, many of which are unique to Jamaica.
We are blessed with an abundance of rivers and exciting waterfalls. I’m sure that you have heard of the world famous Dunns River Falls and possibly the YS Falls in St. Elizabeth. If you are looking for cooler climes, Manchester or St. Ann is where you want to be. And as our many and varied attractions across the island indicate ladies and gentlemen, we’re indeed much ‘more than a beach.’
An important part of our heritage is our food, the thought of which is enough to make the mouth water with anticipation. Whether it’s our national dish, ackee and saltfish; the spicy jerk chicken or pork; steamed fish Jamaican style, consumed from the finest restaurants or from a village vendor, you will never forget the experience.
Similarly our world renowned reggae music has had the world grooving to the rhythms of Jamaica for decades. The feats of our athletes have arrested the attention of the world. Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt continues to electrify and Shelly-Ann Frazer-Pryce is a force to be reckoned with; not to mention the likes of Yohan Blake, Asafa Powell and Veronica Campbell. Their accomplishments at world athletic meets are phenomenal. At the 2012 London Summer Olympic games they had the world on its feet. The excitement surrounding them electrified our promotional space dubbed ‘Jamaica House’ at London’s O2 with a non-stop celebration and had hundreds of persons pouring into the facility, in which we highlighted all things Jamaican. This nation is truly proud of these athletes as well as those men and women who shine in other areas of sports, past and present.
It is all this ladies and gentlemen that has caused many a person to fall in love with Jamaica. It is why we have such a vibrant tourism industry with a high number of repeat visitors, many of whom may be from your nation. Preliminary figures indicate that between January and December 2012, Jamaica welcomed approximately 1.819 million stopover visitors; an increase of 2.0 percent over the same period in 2011.
Tourism accounts for ten percent of Jamaica’s GDP and is the second largest source of foreign exchange, earning $2B in 2011. More than a quarter of our citizens are either directly or indirectly employed in tourism and tourism-related activities. Up to December 2012, provisional figures indicate that Jamaica earned approximately US$2.046 billion, which represents a 1.9 percent increase over the US$2 billion we earned for the same period in 2011.
Jamaica is proud of the achievements of our unique destination. We believe that while this industry is already a significant source of revenue for this nation, it has the capacity to create much needed employment locally, thus improving the lives of many families here. Our job therefore is to keep this industry not just buoyed, but thriving and growing, ensuring that we maintain our premium place in the international tourism market. In keeping with this, efforts are being made to position tourism as the main driver of the Jamaican economy. Global trends are positive, the performance of our local sector is very credible, our arrivals are good, and we have significant investment potential that we are exploring. The prospect for job creation is therefore excellent.
How can the Diplomatic Corps facilitate the Growth and Development of local tourism?
Now, in light of all that I have just said, you may be wondering what role you can play in this process. How could your country help facilitate the growth and development of tourism locally?
Spread the Good Word About Jamaica
Firstly, an excellent way to help in the development of our tourism sector is to share your positive experiences of Jamaica with your families, friends, government, the media and your fellow countrymen at large. I would hope that, captivated by your stories they would want to experience Jamaica for themselves and that you would encourage them to so do.
US Ambassador to Jamaica, Her Excellency Mrs. Pamela Bridgewater, like many of you, has been a great friend to Jamaica. And for this we thank her. She also considers herself to be a Jamaican tourist, having first experienced this country decades ago; returning on multiple occasions leading up to her appointment as Ambassador here. As such, she has made several useful recommendations as to how to augment “the good thing we have here” to use her words.
Putting her money where her mouth is so to speak, she even recently hosted some of her college classmates here last year as we celebrated our 50th anniversary of independence. They did voluntary work at the Mustard Seed Community in Kingston. Not only do they plan to return this year for a similar venture, but they’re going to try to get other groups in the US to the same. In fact, she said that her former classmates plan to continue returning even after she has completed her tour in Jamaica.
This is a shining example of volunteer tourism which continues to have a positive impact on the lives of many Jamaicans. We welcome such ventures and I encourage you all to explore similar avenues to assist persons locally while channeling visitors to our shores.
Visa Facilitation Encouraging Visitor Arrival
You will recall that I’d said earlier that much of what we as government officials do in foreign relations is merely a merging of the minds as we seek to find mutually beneficial solutions to existing problems. Well this leads me to my next point. As virtually every nation of the world has a tourism industry, some needs are common to us all as we seek to implement common strategies as outlined by the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). As a member of this world body, we too uphold their principles and share their goals. In fact, in 2012 Jamaica was elevated to the position of First Vice-Chair of the UNWTO Executive Council at its 94th session held in Campeche, Mexico. We will hold this position through 2013.
One UNWTO goal is improving ease of travel and entry for visitors to other nations, focusing specifically on the whole issue of visa and travel facilitation. Preliminary research by the UNWTO and the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) show that visa facilitation is central to stimulating economic growth and job creation through tourism. It has the possibility of creating some five million additional jobs in G20 economies. Ease of travel could be achieved, through improved measures that, without being a detriment to the discretionary authority of each state, would simplify visa applications and processing formalities while improving the timeliness of visa issuance.
Jamaica has thrown its full support behind the drive to improve the ease of travel for international visitors. We have already begun the process of simplifying the immigration process and making it easier for tourists and other travelers to enter. This has seen us revising immigration forms as well re-engineering the outgoing immigration Advance Passenger Information System (APIS) for both in- and outbound travelers. In December 2012 we started a very important pilot project for the tourism industry and the competitiveness of our airport, where passengers can bypass the immigration booths that are set up in outgoing immigration, thereby speeding up the process. These steps have significantly enhanced the airport experience and help to make the exit and entry of persons to the island seamless.
In addition, we have already been revising the visa requirements for persons from Latin American countries, and early last year secured a one year extension on the visa waivers for Colombia, Venezuela and Panama. We are also working on the revision of visa requirements for countries in Continental Europe such as Russia, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia.
Ladies and gentlemen, we are making it easier for persons to travel to Jamaica. We want you to share the good news with your respective governments and encourage your citizens to visit Jamaica for a holiday. We are also seeking and expecting from your governments, reciprocal arrangements for our nationals as they travel around the world. Your assistance in this process would be very welcomed.
Assist in Opening New Markets and Increase Airlift
Another way in which you could enhance the growth and development of local tourism is by supporting our quest to open up new tourism markets in our bid to boost arrivals and diversify our markets. Again, you can be very instrumental in helping to make this happen by facilitating the forging of vital partnerships within your country. And here I want to again thank the Russian Ambassador to Jamaica, His Excellency Mr. Vladimir Polenov, for the instrumental role he played in helping us to secure airlift out of Russia to Jamaica. In fact, the first flight from that nation via Transaero Airlines, arrived at the Sangster international Airport in Montego Bay from Moscow, on January 1 of this year. Now that is a good way to start the New Year! The opening up of this new gateway through Transaero, the second largest carrier in Russia, will allow thousands of Russian nationals to enjoy a Jamaican vacation and Jamaicans can now more readily journey to that country.
Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I must reiterate that Jamaica is truly a pearl within the Caribbean Sea. Brand Jamaica is world class and our tourism industry is vibrant and booming. I encourage you to spread the word about Jamaica’s beauty and uniqueness and share your experiences with your colleagues, families, friends, and the public at large.
With your support as true Jamaican Tourism Ambassadors we stand to reap great benefits as we seek to:
Ladies and gentlemen we anticipate that 2013 will be a ground-breaking year for Jamaica as we continue to tap into new markets, while bolstering our position in traditional markets; and we’d love for you to be a part of this. It was a pleasure for me to address you today. I believe, and I am sure that the Prime Minister, the Most Hon. Portia Simpson-Miller, as well as my fellow Ministers will concur that Jamaica will be made all the richer by your presence here in Jamaica.
I know that business is at the forefront of your minds while you are here. However, I encourage you all to get to know and interact with our hospitable people. This will help you to get a clearer picture of how you can accomplish some the things that I have outlined. I look forward to meeting with you to discuss your ideas and proposals to boost tourism. And most importantly, be sure to find the time to enjoy our exceptional tourism product. Once you have experienced what Jamaica has to offer… then you will truly appreciate our mantra “Once You Go You Know.”