ADDRESS BY OMAR ROBINSON, PRESIDENT JAMAICA HOTEL & TOURIST ASSOCIATION AT THE JAMAICA HOTEL & TOURIST ASSOCIATION’S 58 TH ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING & CONVENTION HILTON ROSE HALL RESORT MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA SATURDAY, JUNE 29, 2019
Hon. Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism
Mrs. Jennifer Griffith, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism
Mrs. Patricia Affonso-Dass, President of the CHTA
Mr Godfrey Dyer, Chairman of the Tourism Enhancement Fund
Mr. Donovan White, Director of Tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board
Dr Carey Wallace, Executive Director, Tourism Enhancement Fund
Mrs Joy Roberts, Executive Director, Jamaica Vacations
Vice Presidents of the JHTA – Mrs Carol Bourke, Ms. Vana Taylor , Mr. Robert Headley and Mr. Christopher Jarrett
Members of the Council, Area Chairmen
Past Presidents; Mr Wayne Cummings, Mrs Nicola Madden-Greig and Mr. James Samuels
Executive Director, Mrs. Camille Needham
Members of the Association
Travel and Media Partners
Other Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen, Good morning.
It is my pleasure to welcome everyone to our 58 th Annual General Meeting & Convention!
The Association continues its efforts of seeking to ensure the sustainability and continued growth of tourism in Jamaica through partnerships with the government and its agencies, other associations and private sector interests and the public at large.
Worldwide, there continues to be threats, changes, disruptions, expansions and consolidations. The hospitality industry has been undergoing tremendous changes over the last two decades and we have seen in recent years a steady reshaping of our industry. We have been able to deal with these challenges and more here in Jamaica, we are grateful that we have survived these disruptions and grasped many opportunities. Due to the vulnerability of our region, the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre was established here in Jamaica earlier this year to enhance tourism resilience in the Caribbean.
According to estimates by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), average growth rates for the Caribbean is about 3.8% per annum. In Jamaica, the year 2018/19 was one of mixed fortunes for tourism arrivals. From January – December 2018 stopovers increased by 5.1% from 2,352,915 in 2017 to 2,472,727 in 2018. During the period January – April 2019 stopovers increased by a significant 13.4% from 829,736 to 941,131 when compared to the same period in 2018. However cruise arrivals declined by 4% from 1,923,274 in 2017 to 1,845873 in 2018 and by a further 6.3% to 761,856 for the period January - April 2019. It must be noted that while our larger properties did extremely well, smaller properties continue to experience low to average occupancies, except during some peak periods. Small hotels continue to be the backbone of Jamaica’s tourism and as such, sufficient marketing programs should be implemented to help improve the profitability of this sector.
Our Association has welcomed a number of large and small allied companies and several hotels across the island boasing local and international brands. It is a testimony to the strength of the Jamaican hospitality and tourism product that new investment is being made apace by both our own local and committed Jamaicans along with foreign investors. Throughout the island our members have been working hard to align their properties with new trends and imperatives and remain competitive. To them all, I say well done! We are also thankful for the many partners who are helping to strengthen and protect various spheres of Jamaican life and by extention our beloved industry.
As I mentioned earlier, the industry experienced some challenges. We continued to be plagued by rising crime. January 2018 saw the end of the initial Enhanced Security Measures, although the public wanted the measure to remain. Over the next three months, we saw a steady increase in crimes. On August 30, the Government reimplemented the Enhanced Security Measures in light of the rising murder levels in Western Jamaica, covering St. James, Westmoreland and Hanover. Initially the JHTA felt that a return to the ESM would jolt the industry similar to 2018; however, this was not the case. Along with the business community, we moved to show our support for the ESM this time around as it had previously helped to significantly cauterize the rising crime problem impacting our society.
The reality is that tourism is our lifeblood and we were poised to have one of the best winter seasons. The JTB along with the JHTA and other tourism partners continue to manage any impressions created in our international markets. We urge the government not to water down the security measures but continue to support the security forces with the resources to fight this monster. In this regard, let me thank the Governent for their decision to spend J$7.4B on national security, up from $4B, representing the largest increase in this year’ budget allocations. This is not only good news for tourism, but welcome news for all Jamaicans. It is imperative that infrastructure and technology are implemented to fighting crime so that we may all enjoy this beautiful island. We continue to support the Police and the Army as they work to uphold law and order.
Earlier this year, the Government indicated that it will be enacting new legislation as part of its crime-fighting strategy. These include the Enhanced Security Measures Act, the Police Act which will provide for the mordernization and transformation of the Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) and the National Security Council Act. Also announced are proposed amendments to the Firearms Act, Proceeds of Crime Act, and the Criminal Justice Act. Whilst we are aware that it takes time for new legislation to be enacted and extsing ones to be amended, we hope that both the Government and the Opposition will work in a bi-partisan way to pass these bills quickly and bring about the transformation needed to return to a lawful society for all Jamaicans.
Noise pollution continues to impact members in the hotel sector negatively. At present, hotels and the local citizenry suffer from all manner of noisy events, going into the wee hours of the morning, some of which are without permits. Visitors have complained bitterly about the inability to sleep caused by the loud music. Members have complained that they have lost revenues and had to compensate guests for their sleepless night. Negril is feeling the worst effects, however all resort areas are impacted at one point or another. Let it be clear that that JHTA supports the entertainment sector as it is an important component of our tourism product. We want Jamaica to be known as the events capital of the Caribbean. In that regard, we would like to congratulate all the party and events promoters who continue to do so in an organized way without causing any disturbances to our citizens and visitors. We are great supporters of events as they fill our rooms at various times of the year with both overseas and local visitors. However, both must be able to co-exist, and not one at the expense of the other. We must find that balance. While the present law is hardly ever properly enforced, it at least gives the Police the ability to intervene should we call them. The entertainment zones that have been created should be utilized for such purposes.
The JHTA strongly disagrees and cannot support proposed amendments to any legislation that disadvantages the tranquility of our citizens and vistors alike. Participation in entertainment activities should be a choice for patrons and not be something that is forced upon everyone. We have been advised that the draft amendment was prepared and consultations will take place with the respective stakeholders and citizenry. So we eagerly wait to engage all parties so that there can be a mutually beneficial outcome.
Visitor safety and security remains paramount for us in the Association. We receommend that there should be a thorough evaluation of the District Constables Program within each resort area to ensure optimum results can be garnered. Over the past few mnths, overseas media reports highlighted alleged cases of sexual harassment at member organizations. In response to this important issue, the Association in partnership with the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCO), organized a series of four sexual harassment workshops geared at training Human Resource Managers and other relevant personnel in member organizations to develop and strengthen policies and practices relating to sexual harassment and to produce working manuals for preventing incidences of this kind on their premises.
The presence of exploitation in any form will erode and undermine Jamaica’s image and our tourism product. As an association, we do not condone such criminal acts as they are contrary to what we stand for. We recognize that trafficking of children is a worldwide issue and therefore, take this report seriously. The JHTA has taken proactive steps to train and sensitize our staff to more readily recognize possible cases. We have partnered with local embassies such as the US and UK high commission in this regard.
Some of our properties have also signed up and become members of the CODE organization which is based in Thailand. The Code (short for “The Code of Conduct for the Protection of Children from Sexual Exploitation in Travel and Tourism”) is a multi-stakeholder initiative with the mission to provide awareness, tools and support to the tourism industry to prevent the sexual exploitation of children. The Code works to end the sexual exploitation of children in travel and tourism by creating a knowledgeable and well-trained tourism industry that can recognize and prevent potential abuse and also by building zero tolerance environments where travellers understand that these crimes are unacceptable and offenders will be prosecuted.
The JHTA reaffirmed its commitment to protecting the nation’s children from abuse with an annual donation of J$1million to the Centre for the Investigation of Sexual Offences and Child Abuse (CISOCA) and the Jamaica Constabulary Force’s Trafficking in Persons unit. The JHTA is committed to partnering with these agencies which are intent on targeting those who exploit our children and in helping the wider population recognize exploitation and understand how to report it.
In our advocacy efforts, the JHTA met with Minister Bartlett and the Ministry officials on the issue of the resumption of jet skis. We voiced our strong concerns regarding the lifting the moratorium on jet ski operations in the resort areas, mainly on the grounds of safety. The central issue is that jet skis have been proven to be extremely dangerous and have resulted in violent and tragic injuries and in far too many instances - deaths. We also pointed out that jet skis have been proven to be the most disruptive watersports activity in Jamaica as they have been used by unlicensed (and sometimes licensed) operators for uncontrollable solicitation of visitors as well as for the unchecked distribution and sale of drugs. Since the most recent moratorium, there has been a marked reduction in the use of jet skis and this has resulted in lives being saved. There is nothing to suggest that the irresponsible and dangerous behaviour of personal water craft operators, which prompted the ban in 2014, has changed. We remember the deadly accidents in 2013 and 2014, which have had significant financial liability on our members, and would not like to witness any more senseless deaths.
On the issue of our JTB Licence which is coming under threat for revision, we strongly feel there are far too many agencies responsible for inspecting and granting copious individual licences and permits, which negatively impact compliance. We must first fix the lack of alignment and inefficiencies of the myriad agencies, and reduce the number of licences required for compliance. Air BNB continues to grow, gaining more popularity here in Jamaica. Currently, there is no tax on these units or any minimum health and safety standards. This we suggest is crtical to protect not just brand Jamaica and our visitors, but the very opersons operating these units. We maintain that at the very least basic health and safety regulations and minimum tax inputs be implemented, as has been done in other regions. In this case, the GART tax would be an appropriate taxing mechanism. As the tourism landscape improves with the building of new hotels and the expansion of new resort towns, infrastructure improvements must be commensurate which will ensure that there is planned development of communities. There must be adequate water supply, sewage, roads, hospitals, schools, housing and parking facilities. We must not relive the mistakes of our past. In this light, we welcome the tourism workers housing project announced for Montego Bay to be followed by Negril that seeks to regularize squatter communities which have developed over the years due to tourism development. We thank the Ministry of Tourism, the Tourism Enhancement Fund and the Housing Agency of Jamaica. We trust that other reasort areas will be brought into the equation subsequently.
The preservation of our natural environment is critical to our sustainability. The Association was steadfast in its strong support for the ban on single use plastics and Styrofoam. We welcomed the ban on single use plastics and look forward to the date for the ban on Styrofoam to take effect. In Jamaica, it is estimated that 600 million PET bottles are used each year. Jamaica must adopt a culture of recycling, which will contribute to decreasing our carbon footprint and enhance our sustainability. Last year, the Government committed $75 million over three years, towards the implementation of a plastic bottle-deposit scheme. We must all hold the Government accountable. These pollutants have serious implications for small isnald states such as Jamaica as our economic development and food safety are closely tied to the natural environment. We must commend those properties that have moved to paper straws, cups and lunch boxes. Also to those properties that have started coral reef rebuilding projects. Special commendation to the Tourism Enhancement Fund that has funded a number of marine parks and fish sanctuaries across the island. Tourism is dependent on having a healthy natural environment. Our reefs provide entertainment value for visitors who want to enjoy our blue waters. More importantly, it can reduce the impact of waves that cause erosion and reduce the risk of storm surges, which can damage our beachfront. Visitors will pay more for an oceanview room, and adjectives such as “pristine,” “remote,” and “unspoiled” are often used to describe beaches, coral reefs, and panoramic seascapes; thereby increasing revenues.
In the reimagining of our resort areas, we must ensure that the quality of work carried out by the respective agencies be of the highest standards and according to the presestablished plans. Unathorized amendments were carried out to inferior standards on the Ocho Rios main street project, which was completed last year. As we prepare to start the Closed Harbour Project in Montego Bay at a cost of J$1.2B, we hope that the project will be completed in a timely manner according to agreed plans; and where modifications need to me made, there must be consultation with relevant parties. Similarly, work is being proposed for Port Royal without consultation with all stakeholders. Last year, in the reimagining of our resort areas, our Permanent Secretary (PS), Mrs. Jennifer Griffith, was charged with the responsibility to visit these areas, both existing and upcoming ones. I am aware that this process has started and we look forward to welcoming our PS in those areas to be visited.
Public private partnerships are required within tourism to improve the aesthectics of the resort destinations for both our citizens and visitors. Human capital development is an important element of the reimagining of our resort areas. We must ensure that our employees have the requisitive knowledge, skills and ability required to elevate the quality of the guest experience. More inclusively, human capital comprises of the knowledge, education, vocational qualifications, professional certifications, work-related experiences, and even the competencies of your workforce. Allow me at this juncture to commend the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation (JCTI), the agency created to develop human capital by facilitating the professional certification of Jamaicans working in tourism. Through strategic partnerships with highly reputable international institutions, JCTI has done an excellent job of certifying supervisors, chefs, bartenders, trainers. Other certification programs will be rolled out in short order for managers and other employees. Congratulations to all those employees who have undergone certification to improve their knowledge and competence. Research has shown that the success of a tourism destination is largely determined by the competence and innovation of the workforace. Therefore, it is criticail that human resource development forms a key part in the competitive strategy for our country.
The Association is excited that the Tourism Workers' Pension Scheme piloted by the Ministry of Tourism has been passed by Parliament. We fully support and endorse this mandatory pension scheme and would like to say a special thank you everyone who worked tireless over the period. For too long, a large number of persons who have worked all their lives in the industry would retire without having the financial security to continue living lives at a decent standard. We feel this pension plan will provide the assurance to our tourism workers that upon retirement they will still have an income and not be left empty-handed. Presently, there are only a handful of companies that offer pension benefits to their employees. So the plan will include employees from all sectors of the industry, from rafts men, red caps porters, to hotel workers in both large and small hotels. We encourage all our members to quickly implement the pension plan upon hearing the effective date.
The Association continues to work with the agencies of the Ministry of Tourism and other partners in our joint thrust to increase the linkages between tourism and other sectors of the economy. The Tourism Linkages Network (TLN) has expanded the number and range of activities it now undertakes. A new Tourism Demand Study was recently completed to identify local consumption and help supporting sectors better provide for our growing industry. The TLN will meet with the industry players at a later date to be advised to review the findings so that we can reduce leakage and close the gap between local suppliers and buyers within the industry. As Tourism grows, the other industries must grow for there to be greater economic growth. It is important that the trickle down effect of tourism be felt to the average man in the streets.
The Association continues to engender relationships with other associations such that synergies can be established and learnings be shared. Regionally, our relationship with the Caribbean Hotel & Tourist Association continues to be strong. In partnership with the Jamaica Tourist Board, we hosted Caribbean Travel Marktplace in January 2019, which was an overwhelming success. We were able to showcase the best of Jamaica and the Caribbean to our worldwide travel partners.
Members, as I close I am grateful to have served as your president for the last three years. The JHTA continues to evolve and to change shape to meet the opportunities and threats being presented by our environment. We continue to enjoy positive working relationships with the Ministry of Tourism and its Agencies under the leadership of Minister Bartlett. The JHTA will continue to advocate in the best interest of Tourism in the country. I am thankful for the support of our Vice Presidents, Council, our Executive Director, Past Presidents and the Administrative staff of the Association who continue to work hard. To you our members, I thank you wholeheartedly. I know I can pledge for all of us continued commitment to ensuring continued growth and the best possible hospitality and tourism sector for Jamacia.
Omar Robinson President, JHTA