Nedburn Thaffe, Gleaner Writer
With Jamaica's tourism status on life support after images of gun violence and mayhem were plastered across websites, newspapers and TV screens last month, the Government is seeking to give it a jolt of energy with a multimillion-dollar marketing makeover.
The Cabinet has approved US$10 million (J$880 million) for the tourism ministry to embark on a massive public-relations campaign to repair Brand Jamaica, which has haemorrhaged untold bookings since unrest rippled across the capital.
Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is due to leave the island this evening to lead the marketing blitz, scheduled to kick-start in the Big Apple tomorrow. Industry representatives will seek to woo tour operators, travel agents, airline partners, the diaspora and travel writers back to the northern Caribbean island's shores.
The campaign, which will target principal markets in the United Kingdom, United States and Canada, will be funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund, along with support from other industry stakeholders, Bartlett said.
The Government will also utilise Facebook, Twitter and other social-networking sites.
Bartlett said in a press statement yesterday that a decision had been taken to pull advertising from the North American and European markets when the Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston, raid began on May 24.
Battle for bookings
Speaking to The Gleaner yesterday afternoon, Bartlett confirmed concerns from Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Wayne Cummings that staunching the leakage of forward bookings was Priority No. 1.
"The damage for us is in forward bookings, which we have to ensure does not materialise. The real big problem is to overcome this."
He said one of the more important aims of the nine-month programme was to show the world that Jamaica's security forces were in total control.
"The message we are taking to them is that there is a game change here in Jamaica and Jamaica is not a place where we have marauding gunmen going around, but that we are doing a cleaning-up operation," Bartlett said.
In the meantime, Judy Schoenbein, chairman of the JHTA's south coast chapter, has lauded the initiative.
"The operators here are eagerly waiting to accommodate them (travel writers). We have a very strong UK and US market and we have every confidence that the industry will recover from this," she told The Gleaner yesterday.
While unable to put a dollar figure on the booking plunge, Schoenbein said south-coast hoteliers were experiencing a 20 per cent fall-off.