Tourism Minister Portia Simpson Miller yesterday announced plans to establish a “high level council” to advise the government on repositioning Jamaica as a travel destination amid a steep decline in visitors arrivals this year.
“The membership will comprise ministries and agencies that impact directly on tourism as well as industry leaders and stakeholders (and it) will advise the government on all tourism related issues,” Simpson Miller told Parliament during a three-hour contribution to the sectoral debate.
The minister, however, did not identify specific personalities to serve on the council, but the initiative comes in the face of recent harsh criticism by several hoteliers over the performance of the Jamaica Tourist Board.
They have, among other complaints, accused the JTB of spending too much of its US$32-million budget on bureaucracy and not enough on the things that will actually bring visitors to the island.
However, Simpson Miller, in the address, sought to deflect criticism from the JTB, arguing that a 13 per cent decline in Jamaica`s visitors arrivals between January and April (including a 22 per cent drop in April) was not as bad as many Caribbean destinations.
She also appeared to dismiss suggestions for a radical overhaul of the JTB.
“...It is not as simple as closing offices and freeing up money for advertising,” she said.
The agency, Simpson Miller said, had in the past closed down offices and several of its representatives abroad were working from home. She also argued that tourism marketing depended on personal marketing rather than by way of technology.
Last night, however, tourism interests argued that Jamaica`s tourism promoters had failed to properly leverage the assets which it has, such as an airline, Air Jamaica, which are not available to many other destinations.
But while Simpson Miller maintained her defence of the JTB, she appeared to be offering an olive branch to the critics, who include some of Jamaica`s most influential tourism industry players.
“...We acknowledge the need to maintain an even closer relationship with our industry partners,” she said. “I have taken the step to initiate a structured dialogue with industry leaders through monthly meetings.”