Destination? Jamaica. The 6th Annual Tourism Outlook Seminar in Montego Bay, Jamaica

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A delegation of Caribbean officials, distinguished guests, travel experts and interested parties convened for a two-day seminar in November to discuss travel facilitation, brand development, tourism linkages, partnership opportunities and other concerns on the topic of bolstering and increasing tourism in the Caribbean region, specifically Jamaica. The exchange took place at the 6th Annual Tourism Outlook Seminar at the Montego Bay Convention Center in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in a packed room that included members of the press and other attendees from the United States, Latin America, China and several Caribbean islands.

With this year’s theme of “Tourism: Enhancing Social and Economic Impact,” there was plenty of material to consider in the ongoing conversation about “enhancing competitiveness to keep step with today’s evolving traveler.”  

To this, Paul Pennicook, director of tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) said, “Today’s traveller is in search of a more enriching experience.  He wants engaging activities that fuel the imagination and create indelible memories.  This hunger for experience opens the door to a wealth of opportunities in terms of culinary tourism, culture and heritage tours, sports tourism, golf vacations and events, spa and wellness travel and medical tourism.”

Pennicook made mention of sustainable tourism and savvy technology as a way to attract various target groups such as millenials, women and Generation X travelers in JTB’s continued goal of marketing Jamaica as a desired travel destination.

The Honorable Minister Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment, elaborated noting the island’s current economic status. “The tourism industry in Jamaica plays a crucial role in our economic and social development, providing direct employment to some 33,000 persons in the accommodation sub-sector and thousands more indirectly,” said the Honorable Minister Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment.

He continued, “I’m also happy to say that despite the harsh global economic environment and the threat of recession in regions such as Europe, things have been going well for our sector. Our arrivals are up by some 4 percent over last year and we expect to maintain our level of stopovers this year of more than two million visitors.”

HM McNeill also mentioned the importance of ensuring that Jamaican residents benefit from the economic gains of their tourism sector. “It is my view, and certainly that of the government that I represent, that while the industry is being developed as a critical element of the national economy, its social impact must be felt by the people. Our efforts to develop community tourism locally plays a major role in achieving this goal, and we welcome a broader discussion, in this setting, on how we can advance this agenda even further,” he explained.

His point is one that has been cited in several online articles about Jamaican tourism. In a 2013 post on The Gleaner’s website, André Haughton, a lecturer in the Department of Economics on the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies, said, “Other than tourism and telemarketing, there is nothing else here [in Jamaica] for people to do to earn a meaningful income. Everything is on go slow, there is little activity, especially in the inner-city communities, nothing to occupy time, the city needs developmental projects.”

The Annual Tourism Outlook Seminar began six years ago in Kingston, Jamaica before moving to Montego Bay, Jamaica. Organized by the Ministry of Tourism & Entertainment, Jamaica and the Jamaica Tourist Board in conjunction with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the forum is a highly anticipated annual event for tourism policymakers and stakeholders to analyze best practices and address obstacles in the Caribbean tourist industry.

The seminar was broken down into a series of enlightening panel discussions. Presenters and moderators included Gail L. Moaney, managing partner/director, travel & economic development, Finn Partners; Barry Reicherter, partner, digital insights, Finn Partners; Nicola Madden Greig, president, Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association; Carlos Vogeler, director-executive secretary of member relations and regional director for the Americas UNWTO; Jared Strauss, Assistant U.S. Attorney, U.S. Department of Justice; and Carole Beckford, film commissioner/manager, Creative Industries at JAMPRO, an agency of the Government of Jamaica’s Ministry of Industry, Investment and Commerce, among others.

The Honorable Damion Crawford, the Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism & Entertainment, led a lively panel discussion on “opportunities for partnership with the entertainment and creative industries” in which he touted the popularity of Jamaica’s reggae music and culture and the impact of the increased earnings from the entertainment sector.

“It is a fact that worldwide the entertainment and creative industries combine to represent one of the largest economic sectors in the world generating billions in earnings each year. The industry also generates employment for millions, ranging from support staff to professionals in the cultural and creative sectors,” Crawford said.

He continued, “We have an exciting mix of entertainment offerings but everyone will agree that Reggae has become synonymous with Jamaica and to date it is one of the few music forms developed outside of Europe or North America to have swept across the globe with such a tremendous impact on worldwide consumption…the world has galvanized around the Jamaican beat and has taken it from the zinc fence backyards of ghetto communities, to uptown and across international borders into the White House. The performance of our music has moved from community dance halls to celebrated philharmonic halls. We must therefore capitalize on this.”

Crawford said he and his team plan to lead the charge of creating an enabling environment that allows for the formalization and development of entertainment and the creative industries as a lucrative business by establishing “entertainment zones” that will allow for entertainment to continue late into the night hours without residents complaining about noise; by encouraging private enterprises to invest in the entertainment industry; and by increasing the promotion of two initiatives: Reggae Month in Kingston in February which showcases the city’s night life, art galleries, theatre-life and sports; and Arts in the Park, an initiative that exposes local artists to international talent scouts and bookers looking to sign Jamaican artists.

Of the many highlights and takeaways of the two days spent networking and sharing ideas at the sunlit, recently renovated Convention space, there was a special emphasis placed on the enhancement of linkages between tourism, manufacturing, agriculture, entertainment and other sectors of the economy.

For Pennicook’s part, he told TNJ.com that, “JTB hopes attendees will utilize the shared ideas and best practices from the seminar to, ultimately, help grow the business of tourism in Jamaica. Compared to five years ago, for example, we are making good, steady progress. Last year, we passed the two million mark of stopover visitors and we are set to break that mark this year.”

If the overall plan to increase tourism in Jamaica is successful, visitors can look forward to improvements such as the removal of restrictive visa requirements, friendlier customer service at airports, stronger Internet connectivity at hotels, better craft markets and more.

On what Jamaica has to offer, HM McNeill said it best in his concluding remarks. “Jamaica is the birthplace of jerk, which is second to none. Here, the drinks are better; we make the best rum. We have the warmest people and the most intoxicating music. So, I am certain that you will have a great time,” he said with a smile.

As someone who has traveled to Jamaica frequently, I concur.

(CLICK HERE to read an article about 2018’s Jamaica Investment Forum.)