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Performance envy Jamaica-style
Posted: Monday, January 17, 2011

By Derren Joseph
January 17, 2011

As I followed travel and tourism related news for the past week, two stories were hard to avoid. One was the commentary on our Tourism Ministry's trip to India and the other was Jamaica's strong tourism performance for 2010. In terms of the India trip, most voices appear to be critical of the initiative, declaring it a failure even before the delegation departed. In the various politically oriented Yahoo and Google groups, commentators went so far as to ask for the "recall" and resignation of certain government officials. Unfortunately, I noticed only one effort from someone who appeared to have inside knowledge, to defend the India initiative. I only know what is in the public domain but I still count myself among those who prefer to wait and observe the results of the initiative rather than jump to premature conclusions. In terms of Jamaica, it was hard to avoid the news stories in which Jamaica proudly disclosed its tourism results for 2010. In the face of near civil war in Kingston and economic challenges in its two main source markets of the United States and the United Kingdom, Jamaica continues to show what is possible when a nation focuses on a single objective and speaks with a single voice.

Part of Jamaica's success is in diversifying its market. They were the subject of much criticism when they first welcomed the large Spanish hotels. In the early part of the last decade, I have to admit that I was among those who thought they were making a big mistake and would cheapen their brand. Now, as I examine their visitor statistics, I wonder whether I made a mistake? Jamaica has not just successfully expanded their stock of top class rooms but they have diversified their market to incorporate Spain and now China. This is an important ingredient in the recipe of their apparent success, given the downturn in both the US and UK markets. An experienced regional hotelier explained a couple months ago that " the last couple of years they have added some 10,000 new hotel rooms." Jamaica recorded a 6.8 per cent increase in stop over arrival figures for the fourth quarter, October to December, of 2010 when compared to the same period of 2009. Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett went on to disclose that Jamaica's performance in cruise arrivals are also encouraging with a 2.1 per cent increase for the same quarter compared to 2009. What impressed me was Jamaica's strong performance with the UK market at a time when other destinations, such as Tobago, are recording much weaker UK arrivals.

Yet as I am constantly reminded, numbers can be very misleading. One experienced tourism watcher notes that the number of Jamaican rooms has "grown far faster than the increase in arrivals and that many of the hotels have been forced to discount their room rates to protect their market share." The result is that smaller properties are under pressure. While the Spanish visitors are coming because the Spanish hotels benefit from leveraging their own distribution channels, the number of Chinese visitors remain negligible and may continue to be negligible by comparison with the numbers from Jamaica's main markets. Regardless, increased arrivals during 2010 have resulted in a 3.2 per cent increase in Jamaica's gross foreign exchange earnings. Moving forward, there are two large infrastructure projects that will be ready this month. Prime Minister Golding has spoken about the opening of the new Port of Falmouth to 'accommodate the largest cruise ships in the world' (ships that carry in excess of 5,000 passengers). He has also spoken about the Montego Bay Convention Centre which will enable Jamaica to enter the convention business. Furthermore, there was the recent signing of an agreement between the Ministry of Tourism and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) for a Community Based Tourism Policy.

As I consider these two developments, I cannot help but conclude that Jamaica's apparent success is built on a clear vision. I smiled as I read excerpts of Tourism Minister Bartlett's recent speech. He is quoted as saying that "you don't grow because you do everything that everybody else is doing, you grow because you are doing different things and you are disrupting the market." Clearly, it is not time for "business as usual" in Trinidad and Tobago tourism. It is time for "business Unusual." My name is Derren Joseph and I love my country. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful land. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in the future of our beloved country.

Derren is a travel and tourism consultant. The views and opinions expressed here are solely the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of any company or institution affiliated with the writer.

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