Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, is the industry’s man of the moment. Having successfully navigated his nation’s travel and tourism economy through the global financial crisis, he is now playing a pivotal role in establishing Jamaica as a leading MICE destination. BTN catches up with him ahead of Caribbean Marketplace, which is being held at the brand new Montego Bay Convention Centre.
BTN: What was the strategy behind Jamaica hosting Caribbean Marketplace this year?
EB: Firstly, the strategy behind hosting Marketplace this year is to predominantly position Jamaica in the events market at a time when global travel is picking up, our major source markets are rebounding from the recession and we anticipate the meetings market will now be looking for competitive destinations. Secondly but equally as important, is that this will be the first major event held at the new Montego Bay Convention Centre, so it is an excellent opportunity to show Jamaica’s capacity for hosting international conferences, as well as our upgraded and expanded tourism product.
BTN: And how important is Caribbean Marketplace and CHTA to the region’s overall travel and tourism economy?
EB: Caribbean Marketplace and the CHTA’s presence are incredibly important to the region’s overall travel and tourism economy. It is the one predominant time in the tourism calendar when hoteliers and attractions are given the chance to meet with buyers to discuss various key issues that ultimately help improve business and their financial year ahead. It also
sets the tone for vacation packaging throughout 2011 and into 2012.
The event is also important as hoteliers rely on the support of the tour operators in order to capture the largest possible share of the market. At the same time, the tour operators need to engage the hotels with lucrative contracts that allow them to profit. Working hand-in-hand, the hoteliers and the tour operators reach success by the marketing of the product from the individual hotels, to the countries and to the region. It is a monumental task for a small hotel in Jamaica or anywhere in the Caribbean to promote itself to the world and Marketplace gives them the opportunity to do this.
(Though famed for its beaches, Jamaica is also home to lush mountain terrain)
BTN: What kind of year has 2010 proved for Jamaica?
EB: 2010 has been a remarkable success for Jamaica and the Jamaica Tourist Board, particularly in tough economic global conditions.
To put this success into context, the continued investment in the island’s infrastructure has helped to create a boom in Jamaica’s tourism industry with the first quarter of the year seeing an overall increase of 9.2 percent in international visitors, which included a rise of nearly 3 percent amongst UK visitors. August UK visitor arrival numbers to Jamaica also increased by 13 percent, compared to last year, with 17,085 visitors travelling to the island. This was a record high since August 2006, which saw 17,274 visitors, as well as an 11 percent increase from Ireland.
(Jamaica picked up a host of honours at World Travel Awards 2010 Grand Final. Pictured Hon Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism; John Lynch, Director and Chairman, Jamaica Tourist Board; and Graham Cooke, President and Founder, World Travel Awards)
In addition to this, we have welcomed new hotel openings, expanded airlift, a new terminal building at the Ian Fleming International Airport and the development of a new cruise port at Falmouth.
What we’re probably most proud of is the fact that all of these said achievements in 2010 have been recognised by a plethora of industry awards, namely, a collective total of 34 World Travel Awards at both the UK and Jamaica gala award’s evenings.
(Bartlett has leveraged the power of Sport Tourism and stars such as Usain Bolt to promote brand Jamaica to a global audience)
BTN: How do you envisage 2011 shaping up?
EB: On the back of a very successful 2010 of course we are optimistic for a repeat success of everything we have achieved, particularly in light of the steady improvement of business in the region as a whole.
We feel that with the likes of the new Convention Centre, the Falmouth Port development and innovative destination marketing techniques such as the Jamaica 3D film launching at this year’s Marketplace, we are better placed than most to have a successful 2011.
BTN: How does the new Montego Bay Convention Centre fit into your overall travel and tourism strategy?
EB: Even with an increase in visitor figures, Jamaica is constantly exploring new ways to improve travel and tourism overall. Therefore, with the opening of this $51.7million Convention Centre, Jamaica has taken a decisive step towards capturing a part of the lucrative Meetings, Incentives, Conference and Events (MICE) market with the construction of the state-of-the-art Montego Bay Convention Centre.
The opening of the Montego Bay Convention Centre will put Jamaica in a strong position in the MICE industry, which according the International Congress and Conventions Association accounts for some 400,000 conventions and exhibitions worldwide each year, at an outlay of US$280 billion.
(The new Montego Bay Convention Centre was officially opened by Jamaican Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Hon Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism last week, whilst the first scheduled event will be CHTA Marketplace starting this weekend)
BTN: You’ve been very vocal in your opposition of APD. What would you like to see as a viable alternative that serves as a levy without harming the travel and tourism economy?
EB: This is correct and for reasons not just that affect Caribbean countries such as Jamaica as I also feel the rise in the APD could harm the British economy itself in that there could be a move to shift the European travel hub from London’s Heathrow airport to perhaps Madrid or Spain.
Therefore, both Jamaica and other Caribbean nations have submitted proposals to the British Government for changes to the controversial air passenger duty. In the reform proposals, the Caribbean Tourism Organisation recommends a re-banding of the tax to remove what it says are unfair charges on long distance destinations.
In addition we have also asked the British Government to explore the possibility of designating the Caribbean a community of interest, and Bermuda the Capital of the Caribbean for the purpose of calculating the distance between London and the capital of the Caribbean countries. This would enable Caribbean countries to be in the same band as the United States.
(Jamaica is experiencing growing popularity as a golfing destination)
BTN: What are you hoping to achieve at this year’s Caribbean Marketplace?
It is no secret that we are excited about our foray into the events market with Marketplace 2011, a more ideal first event we could not have asked for. For Marketplace is the premier tourism marketing event of the Caribbean region, showcasing the best of the Caribbean and, dare I say, where better to preview the largest convention centre of the Caribbean region.
Exceeding attendance from both suppliers and buyers is one of our key targets, for which already the CHTA is reporting an increase in buyer registrations for Marketplace 2011 versus the same timeframe last year, including eight new wholesalers from Russia, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Additionally, registrations from the UK surpassed last year’s final UK numbers prior to the start of the conference.
I think it also gives Montego Bay and indeed Jamaica as a whole, the pedestal needed to show the rest of the world that we have more strings to our bow than just tourism that we are bucking the trend in a tough, competitive market and that generally Jamaica is ready to do business.