Edmund Barlett, Jamaica’s Minister for Tourism, has beat the likes of sprinting superstar Usain Bolt to be voted “Man of Year 2009” by the Jamaica Observer, capping a year which has seen his island’s tourism economy power through the global downturn through savvy initiatives.
At the start of the year, with the world in the midst of slashing travel expenditure, Jamaica was faced with one of its toughest challenges in its tourism history.
The travel and tourism sector is crucial to the island’s economy, contributing 5.6 percent to its GDP, and employing over 10 percent of the population, including 80,000 direct jobs and over 270,000 indirect jobs. So any slide in tourism would have proved a bitter blow to Jamaica’s economy.
The island was already starting to feel the pinch, as its key source market the United States, along with other primary markets such as the UK, were holding back on travel.
Bartlett confronted the challenge full-on, mobilising the tourism sector in an inspiring campaign to ensure that Jamaica would triumph in adversity, and build its position in the world tourism market. He had a strong team behind him: Jamaica Tourist Board chairman John Lynch, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association president Wayne Cummings and Jamaica Association of Villas and Apartments head Vana Taylor.
In a climate where virtually even nation worldwide experienced a slump in tourism revenue and numbers, Jamaica’s performance has been outstanding.
The island registered US$1.533 billion in tourism revenue for the period January to October this year compared to the US$1.539 billion earned for the whole of 2008. The figures are even more impressive given that hotels were forced to offer a 30 to 65 percent discounted rate.
Jamaica welcomed 1.767 million visitors last year and there is great expectation that this number will be exceeded this year. Whilst early reports indicated the 2009/10 Winter Tourism Season, which started two weeks ago will prove particularly strong.
Jamaica has registered a 4 percent increase in visitor arrivals that was recorded up to early December 2009.
The International Monetary Fund confirmed Jamaica as the number one Caribbean tourism destination based on visitor arrival growth in 2009, up 3.4 percent, ahead of 3.l percent for Cuba.
Jamaica’s tourism supremacy was also rewarded at the 2009 World Travel Awards, the Oscar’s of the travel industry, where it emerged with no less than 16 awards, and the recognition of over 180,000 travel professionals that participated in the voting process.
Awards included the Caribbean’s leading destination, Caribbean’s leading tourist board (Jamaica Tourist Board), Caribbean’s leading marketing campaign, Caribbean’s leading airline (Air Jamaica), and Caribbean’s leading cruise destination.
Bartlett has been championing what he dubs “The New Tourism” – a concept featuring short- and long-term measurable objectives, which culminate in tangible cultural and economic benefits for the tourist, provider of the tourism experience and the host country. His approach is founded on three pillars: marketing, product development and investment.
(pictured left: A sterling team effort for Jamaica’s tourism industry at the World Travel Awards 2009)
One of Bartlett’s core strategies has been the development of sport tourism, and building the link between Jamaica as a tourism destination and Jamaica as a hotbed of the world’s most gifted athletics stars.
The JTB got right behind its stable of incredible athletes at the World Athletics Championship in Berlin in August with its Jamaica & Tui VIP Lounge, repeating last year’s success with its VIP Sports Lounge at the Westin Beijing.
(pictured right: Ed Bartlett with Graham Cooke, President of World Travel Awards and Miss World, Zi Lin Zhang of China)
The brainchild of the Bartlett, the Club Jamaica VIP Lounge played host to dignitaries, VIPs and leaders from the worlds of sport and travel, and capitalised on the amazing buzz that surrounds the Jamaican team.
The year has also seen great infrastructure improvements on the island. Sandals Whitehouse in Westmoreland and Iberostar Beach in St James have both re-opened. These two hotels alone will provide employment for more than 600 people. Then there is the addition of 700 new rooms with the completion of Secrets Hotel and 643 additional rooms at Palmyra in St James.