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Ja loses out on group bookings

By Janet Silvera, Freelance Writer

WESTERN BUREAU

THREE YEARS from now Jamaica will still be reeling from the effects of the July riots and violence in West Kingston as several meeting and incentives groups who had booked accommodation in Jamaican hotels up to the year 2004, have cancelled the bookings.

Group bookings hold the largest earning power for tourism and the cancellations have bitten big time into the potential income of the industry.

The Gleaner understands that Minister of Tourism, Portia Simpson Miller has sent letters to the meeting planners and incentive houses abroad, advising them that Jamaica is calm. The hotels have got together and formed an advisory committee to assist the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) groups department, because this market is more sensitive to turmoil than the retail market, says Craig Martin, general manager of the Wyndham Rose Hall, who is also a member of the committee.

The committee comprising, Marcia Bullock of JTB-Miami, Douglas Brooks of the Ritz Carlton, Noel Sloley Snr., Jamaica Tours and Peter Komposch, Half Moon Golf and Beach Resort was formed after reported losses by hotels such as the 720-room Jamaica Grande Resort.

So far, one group that was scheduled for October, two others booked for January and one in February 2002, have cancelled their accommodation at the Grande and opted for other destinations.

Lost

We have lost $13 million dollars from the cancellations, because meeting planners are more difficult to convince, they will not take people to a place where they are at risk, they will always seek a safe haven, said Peter Fraser, director of operations, Jamaica Grande Resort.

The property enjoys a 20 per cent group business, a percentage Mr. Fraser, says he would like to see doubled. The group business is very essential to me, I am trying to gain a stronger foothold in the market, but all these things are working against us, he says.

He remarked that anything that happens on the North Coast now, be it a roadblock or even a peaceful demonstration will have an effect on the fragile market.

The Wyndham Rose Hall which topped its last July`s figures by a one per cent point this year, is also a casualty of the riots, and has lost six major groups to date.

Fifteen per cent of Wyndham`s business comes from the group market, this market is extremely important, it is the most profitable, they come when traditionally business is slow, says Craig Martin.

The lucrative group market boasts earnings of approximately $80 billion globally. Except for a small group department within the Tourist Board, it is felt that Jamaica has nothing in place to tap into this most profitable market.

More and more destinations are increasing their efforts in this area because it fills the rooms during the slow periods, drives the vacation market and ultimately trickles down to the communities. Groups go on tours, dine around at local restaurants and purchase gifts locally.

However, Jamaica has not implemented measures required to capture its real impact, tourism interests say.

No information

No information is readily available from the JTB on the revenue being derived from the market.

We are hoping to do an amendment to the immigration card, only then will we be able to capture that information readily, says, Mrs. Faye Pickersgill, Director of Tourism.

However, one of things known is that groups are 50 to 75 per cent more profitable in bringing in revenue, than the standard wholesale market. The room rates and the dollar spent per person are higher, Mr. Martin told The Gleaner.

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