Stakeholders optimistic about 2015
Tourism, outsourcing and agriculture to benefit
Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:Stakeholders in the tourism, business processing outsourcing (BPO) and agricultural sectors are exuding confidence that 2015 will be a bumper year for their respective sectors, which collectively form the backbone of the western Jamaica economy.
Janet Silvera, the coordinator of Gleaner's Hospitality Jamaica, believes that, with the highest concentration of first-class accommodations in the Caribbean, the west is poised to achieve much in 2015.
"All the indicators are pointing towards a bumper winter tourist season, both in stopover arrivals and cruise ship passengers," said Silvera in an interview with the Western Focus. "Jamaica is at a good place in relation to the tourism product, and with the reopening of two major plants - Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara, and the former Sunset Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios, the numbers will increase considerably.
"In addition, when AM Resorts takes over the marketing of Sunset Beach Resort in Montego Bay, this, too, will boost an already buoyant market," added Silvera.
"The new players in the market don't have enough rooms to meet the demand at this time ... this can be good, but it can also be bad," Silvera told Western Focus.
"Overall, Jamaica will continue to do well owing to the complementary work being done by the Jamaica Tourist Board. The organisation has hit the pavement running and is reaping rich rewards from its Jamaica Travel Specialist programme, which has more than 18,000 travel agents enrolled."
In the ICT/BPO sector, things are looking good and are poised to get better as, in addition to being ideally located in proximity to North America, with a workforce of 1.4 million and an unemployment rate nearing the 16 per cent mark, the BPO/ICT platform could help ease the local unemployment woes, Yoni Epstein, president of the Business Processing Industry Association of Jamaica (BPIAJ), says the employment numbers in the sector have been growing significantly and should continue to do so in the New Year.
"We did a canvass recently and there are now more than 17,000 employed to the BPO sector and we are confident of surpassing the 20,000 mark for 2015." Epstein said. "There continues to be overwhelming interest in location Jamaicas and we are expecting a further increase in the number of outsourcing businesses for the coming year."
In the area of training, the BPIAJ boss said that issue remains a matter of serious concern. However, he expressed much confidence that planned partnerships with the numerous universities that have established western campuses in the region will be able to bridge what he has described as, "that small yet very significant gap".
According to Gloria Henry, operations manager of the Montego Bay Free Zone, there is much optimism in the sector going forward, based on the impact the sector had in 2014.
"We lead the way in the service sector, and this can only get better for 2015," said Henry."We are opening an incubator in January, there is also significant expansion taking place at the Montego Bay Free Zone, and the Government also has a number of plans which is expected to stimulate growth even further, so things can only get better for western Jamaica."
On the agriculture front, all the indicators are pointing to a very good 2015, especially if some of the problems encountered in 2014 do not become a factor in the New Year.
During 2014, western parishes emerged as the leaders in the cultivation of yams, ginger, sugar cane, and banana. However, like the rest of Jamaica, the drought conditions that impacted the island hampered the region's capacity to perform at its fullest potential.
"We believe the agriculture sector is poised for growth ... we are already seeing the signs and we are optimistic that 2015 will be a very good year, said Montego Bay's mayor, Councillor Glendon Harris, who is president of the St James branches of the Jamaica Agricultural Society. "Plans are in the works to establish several agro-parks throughout the region ... that, to me, is an indicator of the Government's intention for that sector for the coming year."