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· Master of Ceremonies - Robert Rainford
· SBAJ President - Hugh Johnson
· Honorary Consul of Barbados - Winston Bayley
· President, Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce - T'shura Gibbs
· JAMPRO Western Jamaica Manager - Conrad Robinson
· General Manager, Jamaica National Group - Earl Jarrett
· SBAJ Director - Garnett Reid
· Members of the Media
· Ladies and Gentlemen
· At the risk of exposing my bias, let me commend you for recognizing the importance of tourism to your sector, the national economy and the development of our beautiful country.
· I believe I can safely say your decision to have your inaugural Caribbean MSME Conference here in Montego Bay next month is a good choice, and this is not just because it will be held in my constituency.
· The over 700 participants you are expecting, who will be coming from Barbados, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Trinidad & Tobago, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Haiti and Guyana, will be counted among the record number of stopover visitors that we anticipate this year as our arrivals barometer inches closer and closer to our attainable target of having 5 million visitors annually pumping US$5 billion dollars into the national economy.
· The functions of the SBAJ members and the focus of your inaugural conference are in harmony with the direction in which this administration is taking tourism, which, I’m sure you appreciate, has emerged as the driving force of national economic transformation.
· The first thing that struck me upon receiving your invitation was the conference objective of shaping opportunities for the Caribbean’s MSMEs to better support economic growth while striving to create a space to address areas most critical to their sustainability and livelihood through a network connecting Business to Business (B2B).
· No doubt you are aware that despite the limelight being shone on big businesses, worldwide small enterprises account for an average 95 per cent of world business and account for some 60 per cent of employment in the private sector. In fact, a 2012 study by a reputable international firm says that in Japan SMEs account for 99 per cent of total enterprise while among the 27 countries in the European Union, SMEs account for 99.8 per cent of all enterprises and employ 67 per cent of all workers.
· Locally, a survey commissioned pointed to a number of challenges facing the SMEs sector, with financing accounting for 50 per cent of their pressing needs.
· In tourism, we prefer to refer to our SMEs as SMTEs or, Small and Medium-Sized Tourism Enterprises.
· The Ministry of Tourism, through the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), has been spearheading a number of initiatives aimed at supporting the financial needs of the SMTE subsector and, through the Export-Import (EXIM) Bank, several players in that sector have been benefiting from a billion-dollar revolving loan fund that was rolled out here in Montego Bay.
· Since the loan programme was launched, EXIM Bank has approved 383.90 million dollars in loans for 21 clients. To date, 166.13 million dollars has already been disbursed to nine clients with the remaining sum to be disbursed as the loan collateral is perfected.
· And I am told that applications in varying stages are being processed totaling 117.50 million dollars, while there are expressions of interest totaling an additional 430 million dollars.
· I believe it is quite in order that I use this occasion to remind prospective applicants of the three primary requirements to access the TEF/EXIM SMTE Loan.
· Applicants submitting proposals must ensure they are aligned to new investments, new markets and new products as well as human capital development of five sectors recognised by the Jamaica Tourist Board.
· These are: Small accommodations, not exceeding 30 rooms; attractions, water sports, domestic tours and bike or car rentals.
· The loan supports entities with at least 25 per cent of its revenue derived from tourism through any of the five Linkages Networks. Successful applicants can borrow up to $25 million at an interest rate of 5 percent for five years. EXIM Bank also has the flexibility of considering viable projects that might require more than the ceiling, at a slightly higher rate of interest.
· While this loan programme is specific to the tourism sector, the fact is that this industry draws from every other sector and it is in recognition of these linkages that we are saying if you can come up with a project that falls under any of the five networks and meet other criteria, loan financing is available to you.
· Mr. Chairman, I’ve further taken note of your expected outcomes from the Caribbean MSME Conference; in particular, having a policy document on Caribbean Business Sustainability, exposing attendees to various cultures and business, and facilitating opportunities for business to business networking.
· There is a correlation between that and the Tourism Linkages Network which arose out of a policy by the Ministry of Tourism to target the development and strengthening of sustainable linkages between the tourism sector and other productive sectors of the economy.
· And this is being done through the five pillars of growth I alluded to earlier, namely Gastronomy, Health and Wellness, Sports and Entertainment, Shopping and Knowledge by which we seek to create and sustain linkages throughout productive industries.
· During your Conference in July, therefore, in your discussions on local and intra-regional trade, it would be useful for members of the Small Business Association Jamaica to formulate a marketing strategy that will enable you to collectively access opportunities that are opening up in tourism for your goods and services.
· While we continue to appeal to and attract the foreign investment that produces the large hotels, the expectation is that the small tourism enterprises will meet their need for items such as furnishings, foods, locally produced condiments, linen and a range of other products, including authentic Jamaican art and craft.
· I urge the SBAJ members to seize the opportunities that exist and those that are opening up with investment in the tourism sector.
· In the recent past, we have been experiencing a boom not only in arrivals but with the renovation and upgrading of several properties and new hotels in the making, bringing hundreds of millions of US investment dollars into the economy.
· Over the next two years we will be seeing a series of properties opening and ground being broken to increase room stock as we stay on track to increase total direct jobs to 125,000 in tourism and add 15,000 new hotel rooms by the year 2021.
· Understandably, while you have an objective that speaks to regional collaboration the primary objective of the Tourism Linkages Network is to increase the consumption of goods and services that can be competitively sourced locally, thereby creating employment and building up the country’s foreign exchange earning potential.
· In pursuing these aims and objectives, a key word is sustainability.
· This year, 2017, has been designated the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and right here in Montego Bay, in November, we will be making tourism history by hosting a United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) global conference on sustainable tourism at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.
· Let me put this in perspective. This little island of Jamaica will be the first country in Latin America and the Caribbean to host such a major conference of the UNWTO. This is no small achievement and it recognizes the high level of respect with which we are held as a country and the strides we have been making in growing tourism while putting in place measures to ensure its sustainability.
· We justifiably claim to be the destination of choice in the Caribbean with our vast array of natural and built attractions, and rich cultural heritage matched only by the ingenuity and uniqueness of our hospitable people. However, we also recognize that despite such bountiful endowment, we need to exceed the expectations of our visitors if we are going to bolster the country’s position as a premier tourist destination.
· Achieving excellence in tourism is all about ensuring the ultimate visitor experience every time, through the visitor’s interaction with the tourism product. This is the type of reputation that attracts visitors and keeps them coming back time after time and today we can boast of 42 percent in repeat visitors.
· Our refocus of tourism is showing success and efforts are continuing. Destination Assurance Councils are now in place to address the several nagging issues concerning the state of affairs in our resort areas, and Spruce Up Jamaica is back.
· The Jamaica Centre of Tourism and Innovation is being developed, as also a Craft Development Institute and building out Artisan Villages.
· Even more opportunities are opening up for SMTEs as we develop Community Tourism and the Kingston Metropolitan area, St. Thomas and Portland as the great tourism parishes of the future
· We know what is needed and we are aggressively moving to develop the institutional architecture to drive sustainable tourism development.