NEW Prime Minister Andrew Holness went with good news to Jamaica’s tourism mecca of Montego Bay, announcing that $60 billion in capital investment, creating 21,648 jobs through 15,825 new rooms, is on the cards for the industry over the next four years.
With the second’s city’s movers and shakers his captive audience in the upscale Ritz Carlton Hotel, Holness reeled off figures showing tourism’s status as the highest foreign exchange earner and the likeliest to move Jamaica’s development along.
The prime minister said that five attractions were scheduled to be opened this year in Montego Bay, Falmouth, Ocho Rios and Kingston, with projected capital investment of $718 million and employment of 427 persons within the attractions sub-sector.
But the prime minister did not give details about the coming attractions.
“Another 15,825 new rooms are expected to be completed between 2011 and 2013, translating into an estimated 21,648 new jobs and approximately J$60 billion in capital investment,” he announced.
Holness was in the north coast resort city for the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association’s (JHTA) gala banquet celebrating 50 years of contribution to Jamaica’s tourism industry.
Delivering the main address, he commended the association for “its extraordinary impact as well as the stabilising impact it has had on Jamaica’s tourism sector despite several periods of global economic and political turbulence”.
Holness said the JHTA, which was established in November 1961, had continued to be critical to growth and development of the industry.
Government, he pledged, would continue to support the development of the industry through investment promotion and facilitation, prospecting new and emerging markets, securing the transportation links, developing the policy and legislative frameworks to suport the development of new industry segments, and the continued global lobbying for the national interest.
“The government is sensitive and keen to support the industry as a critical pillar of the Jamaican economy,” he said.
He noted that in 1961 Jamaica had recorded stopover arrivals of 224,492, cruise ship arrivals of 69,407 and tourism earnings amounting to some US$37,716 million.
Fifty years later, the figures indicated that between January and September of this year, Jamaica recorded stopover arrivals of 1,504,667 and cruise arrivals of 763,349 which earned the country US$1.548 billion.
“The industry has done well for Jamaica over the last 50 years and in recent times despite the instability of the international financial climate, tourism in Jamaica has emerged as the largest foreign exchange earner and an increasingly significant source of employment,” he said.
He added that last year employment in the accommodation sector alone had seen an increase of 664 jobs over the previous year.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett in his address urged the JHTA members to re-examine their business models in order to ensure greater efficiencies and increased earnings.
“I again encourage you all to endeavour to further revamp and enhance our tourism product by introducing new technology and new rooms in order to ensure that our tourism product and room stock always remain fresh and crisp,” he said.
“…This invites a new approach to cost management and operational efficiencies in our industry and demands creative approaches to tackling the energy issues at the base of these spiralling costs,” Bartlett said.
To this end, Bartlett said the ministries of tourism and energy had collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Caribbean Hotel Energy Efficiency Action Programme to make available a pool of funds to the sector for retro-fitting, energy audits and the application of renewable technologies.
Meanwhile president of the JHTA Evelyn Smith promised that the association would continue to work closely with Jamaican governments, but cautioned Holness that the organisation would also continue to defend its interests.
“Make no mistake, you will certainly hear from us on issues of concern to our members,” adding that despite the accomplishments, many challenges remain for the sector, among them the country’s need to admit that a severe energy crisis exists and to take bold steps to address it.
“Our other operating costs continue to rise and we urgently need to pursue policies that will lead to even lower interest rates, a further reduction in crime, reduced bureaucracy and improved health care delivery and education,” she said.
The event was also used to pay homage to the past presidents of the association for their foresight and love of the business of tourism “at great personal and financial cost”.
Smith said they had traversed the country, dreaming of the day when the then fledgling industry would “stand proudly as a great beacon of economic hope for our country”.
Source: Jamaica Observer