By Garwin Davis, Assistant News Editor
THE MINISTRY of Tourism and Industry yesterday named nine new directors to the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), a move industry players are calling "a step in the right direction."
The nine: hoteliers Paul Pennicooke; Josef Forstmayr; Zein Issa-Nakash; Carolyn Wright; Air Jamaica's CEO, Christopher Zacca; former JTB chairman, O.K. Melhado; banker Michael Muirhead; businessmen Jason Henzell; and Ohene Blake, have, with immediate effect, joined new chairman, Dennis Morrison, in forming what Sandals boss, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, hailed as "the best effort in years to structure an effective tourist board." Mr. Morrison was appointed JTB chairman two weeks ago. "The announcement of the composition of the new Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) provides another opportunity for the industry to regain its focus," Mr. Stewart noted. "The inclusion of O.K. Melhado, an outstanding past chairman of the JTB, is constructive."
Mr. Stewart, who criticised the previous JTB board, however, cautioned that the new board could well do with more persons with marketing experience. "Given the fact that the JTB's primary duty is the marketing of the brand name 'Jamaica', the board could be strengthened by additional persons who are knowledgeable in tourism marketing," he said. "I encourage the authorities to take steps to balance the board in that regard."
The Sandals and Air Jamaica chairman added that "the challenges ahead were enormous and that the board "has my full support in any strategy aimed at bringing back buoyancy to our main industry."
The new appointments are the latest sign the Tourism Ministry is bent on undergoing a major directional shift. Already, there is a new Minister (Aloun N'dombet Assamba replacing Portia Simpson Miller), a new chairman (Mr. Morrison for banker, Bill Clarke) and sometime within the next five weeks a replacement will be found for JTB director, Fay Pickersgill, who officially demits office on January 31, 2003.
"We welcome the appointments of these nine individuals," said Ed Bartlett, Opposition spokesman on tourism. "Hopefully, they will be bringing back unity and stability to a board that unfortunately had lost its way in recent times. We are confident that given time, they will be able to do what is necessary to give the country a competitive edge in what is increasingly becoming an overcrowded marketplace."
Mr. Bartlett, however, warned that every effort should be made to ensure that the public is sufficiently informed about what "really took place at the JTB's New York office, noting that nothing less than full transparency will be accepted.
"I am hoping this will be the first order of business for this new board," he said. "The JLP will be tabling a motion in Parliament on December 3 dealing specifically with this matter. We will be calling for a forensic auditing of the entire JTB operations overseas, including 'Operation Grow' where, based on our understanding, over US$6 million of an earmarked US$13 million cannot be accounted for."
The Tourism Ministry is currently in possession of an audited report of the JTB's New York office. The audit became necessary following allegations of corruption, including fraud and the misappropriation of millions of dollars, made against senior tourism officials. The report was done by the JTB's chief internal officer, Collin Greenland.
Mr. Forstmayr, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) president, who is making a return to the board following a hasty resignation earlier this year, said he was "humbled to be selected among such an elite group." This has to be viewed as a very positive step by the Ministry of Tourism," he said. "What is encouraging is that people have been selected based on their level of expertise and not because they are from a particular organisation... this has to be good news for the industry."
He added that it was critical that the new board, in addition to deciding on a Director of Tourism, "must deal with the New York issue and bring closure to a messy and rather unfortunate situation."