Wed | Aug 23, 2017

Delano Seiveright | MoBay Convention Centre turnaround - 65% jump in revenues, attendance up 159%

Published:Tuesday | July 18, 2017 | 7:00 AMDelano Seiveright

The Gleaner, through its editorial on July 15, 2017, expressed alarm at poor investment choices by governments over the years that largely have had a deleterious impact on the poor and pointed to the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium and the Montego Bay Convention Centre as two such examples.

While the Gleaner is right in some respects, in the case of the convention centre, it is now making a stunning turnaround as a result of hard-nosed leadership and a practical vision for its long-term viability. Almost a year since Cabinet approved the transfer of management, operations, and marketing of the Montego Bay Convention Centre to the Edmund Bartlett-led Ministry of Tourism, the facility has enjoyed a record-breaking fiscal year ending March 31, 2017, by registering a 65 per cent increase in revenue and a 13 per cent reduction in operating expenses over the prior fiscal year.

The Montego Bay Convention Centre opened its doors in 2011 as a venue for conventions, trade shows, banquets, and theatre-style conferences. It was built as a response to the growing need for first-class meeting and convention facilities on the island. The centre was constructed by the Government of Jamaica in conjunction with the Chinese Development Bank and was previously owned by the Urban Development Corporation.

Understanding that time is money and the remarkable potential of the Convention Centre, which received the sixth consecutive World Travel Award for the Caribbean's Leading Meeting and Conference Centre, Bartlett, in real time, pulled together a small team to take a hands-on approach to turning around the fortunes.

The team includes SMG, which has professionally managed the convention centre since its opening in 2011; Jamaica Tourist Board Chairman John Lynch; and Tourism Enhancement Fund Chairman Godfrey Dyer, among others.

Gross revenues for the convention centre galloped from US$1.13 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year to US$1.86 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year. Meanwhile, operating expenses trended down, moving from US$2.8 million for the 2015-2016 fiscal year to US$2.35 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year.

The number of attendees coming through the convention centre for varying international and local meetings and conventions also climbed significantly. Attendees for fiscal year 2015-2016 numbered 34,300, while fiscal year 2016-2017 recorded 88,800 attendees - a whopping 159 per cent increase.

 

HEADING TOWARDS MORE PROFIT

 

These trends and numbers must continue in the same direction. Among some of the basic actions implemented to quickly turn around the centre's efficiency are extensive repairs to the chiller, thereby increasing operating efficiency; elevating food and beverage revenue to 55 per cent of total event income, representing a 50 per cent increase over the prior year; increased marketing and promotional efforts; and cost-effective deals brokered with suppliers.

Already, the success of the Convention Centre is set to increase immensely as the venue already has signed contracts for events amounting to 70 per cent of the current fiscal year's revenue projections, this just under four months in. This comes on top of hosting several high-profile events in recent months, including FOROMIC 2016, the 46th Annual Meeting of the Caribbean Development Bank Board of Governors, Caribbean Hoopfest, Latin Finance 2nd Caribbean Finance and Investment Forum, and the Jamaica Bridal Expo. The Centre is also looking forward to hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organization and the Government of Jamaica and World Bank Group Conference on Jobs & Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, aggressively pushed by Bartlett, from November 27-29, the first in the Western Hemisphere, attracting hundreds of high-profile delegates from across the globe.

The Gleaner has, however, reopened a long-running policy debate on government investment choices, especially for facilities that the world over rarely make a profit, but which serve the public's interest.

Smartly enough, Bartlett and his team have been actively searching for a price-sensitive hotel interest to build on a small piece of convention centre lands as a means of attracting more events and boosting revenues.

On another note, the financial benefit of the Montego Bay Convention Centre should also be seen in the tax revenues generated both directly and indirectly, including sales and hotel occupancy taxes paid by convention delegates and tourists alike.

A significant number of the record 88,000 attendees in the last fiscal year paid over hundreds of US dollars each just to be in Jamaica, all contributing to employment and the nation's tax coffers.

- Delano Seiveright is senior adviser and strategist to Jamaica's Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett and former president of JLP affiliate, G2K. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and delanoseiv@gmail.com, or tweet @delanoseiv.