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Bartlett blasts from the blocks - Tourism minister gets high marks for start but industry watchful to see how he continues

Published:Sunday | June 12, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett (left) in talks with Nicola Madden-Grieg, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, shortly after he was sworn into office.

Tourism stakeholders have given Edmund Bartlett high marks for his five-pillar growth strategy announced after he was returned to head the tourism ministry following the Jamaica Labour Party's victory at the polls.

Bartlett has been actively pursuing five objectives, which include targeting new markets, new investments, new products, the building of partnerships and the renewal of human capital since taking office in February.

However, the industry is keenly watching the implementation and the roll-out of the policy framework.

Responding to questions posed by The Sunday Gleaner, Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), said it was pleased to hear of this strategic approach, "and looking forward to the rolling out of the policy framework and implementation strategy to govern this mandate".

According to Madden-Greig: "The focus on gastronomy as a key niche segment the association feels is timely, and speaks to the growing desire of visitors to travel for their passions."

Her counterpart, Marilyn Burrowes, president of the Association of Jamaican Attractions, was as encouraged stating that Bartlett was ensuring all was achieved properly and sustainably.

 

JHTA impressed

 

The JHTA is also impressed with the minister's level of engagement with key stakeholder groups, in addition to the work he has done restructuring critical departments within the agencies in an aim to streamline processes.

The level of engagement, Madden-Greig said, indicates a focus on inclusiveness and a spirit of consultation.

That inclusiveness has taken in community tourism, an area that hotelier Diana McIntyre-Pike is passionate about.

"He seems to be taking on quite a lot at one time and is putting more effort into cultural heritage," said McIntyre-Pike, adding that already the minister has promised to meet Countrystyle Villages and Businesses.

"The first time around he was known as the 'heads to bed' minister. He was not really connecting then. Now he has taken a more holistic approach and is showing that he has listened and is willing to partner with the industry," stated McIntyre-Pike.

As happy as the industry is with the minister's performance, there remains concerns with the recent increase in the departure tax by the Government and the potential impact that this may have on stopover arrivals and competitiveness.

Madden-Greig says the JHTA will continue to monitor the outcome.

In the meantime, Madden-Greig's predecessor, Evelyn Smith, a hotelier in Negril, says while reports indicate that the minister has spent significant time travelling locally and overseas speaking with the industry, she would also have expected by now to hear clear policy directions, not in broad generalisation but in specific terms and time frames for various issues and policies.

"Key policy issues not yet addressed which are needed for the growth and regulation of the industry," said Smith.

She pointed out the revision to the Tourist Board Act - which had passed consultation with the industry and the former Jamaica Tourist Board after many years and was ready to be sent to Cabinet just before the general election.

"This was pointed out to the minister during consultations during his first 30 days, but to date no update. This act is critical to industry functioning, licensing structure and competitiveness and viability, but now seems to be off the radar."

In the meantime, tourism consultant David Jessop is also impressed with Bartlett's start.

"His decision to undertake an early engagement with Cuba and the Dominican Republic to develop multi-destinations tourism and related airlift is an example of his fresh thinking in defence of Jamaica's tourism market during the Government's first 100 days in office," said Jessop.