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JTB shelled out $500m to market Ja in throes of COVID-19 outbreak

Published:Monday | March 20, 2023 | 1:01 AMKimone Francis/Senior Staff Reporter

The Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) has disclosed that it spent more than $500 million during the height of the coronavirus pandemic to lure visitors to the island, even as countries closed their borders and businesses shuttered to limit the spread of the highly contagious disease.

The JTB confirmed, through a Gleaner access to information request, that it paid US$3,160,545.12, or J$474 million, to FINN Partners, a US-based international marketing firm, “to keep Jamaica top of mind” throughout the pandemic.

Between November 2019 and March 2021, when the company’s contract with the JTB ended, it received some US$2,707,232.31, or J$406 million.

Further, the JTB said that it paid Lou Hammond, which was appointed to handle Jamaica’s public relations interests April 2021, US$890,762.20, or J$133.6 million. However, the JTB said that at the end of 2021, the company received only US$360,000, or J$54 million.

Asked why the Ministry of Tourism did not suspend services during the height of the pandemic when borders were closed, the JTB said that it was important that the marketing of the island continued.

“It was imperative to continue public relations services during the pandemic to ensure effective communication to our audiences (business and consumers) in all core markets and to keep Jamaica top of mind through innovative strategies,” it said in response to a Gleaner query.

“Although borders were closed around the world, businesses were still operating virtually, so it was important that we remain connected and maintain engagement with our partners,” it added.

The JTB said that FINN Partners’ scope of work included the development and execution of strategic public relations programmes and social media strategy for the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada.

Meanwhile, Lou Hammond’s scope of work includes the development and execution of strategic public relations programmes for the United States.

The JTB did not indicate why it downsized public relations for the country coming out of a pandemic even as it noted that there was a 55 per cent reduction in fees to Lou Hammond versus FINN Partners. FINN Partners’ annual contract totalled US$2.5 million.

Equally, the tourist board did not indicate whether it had contracted the services of another company to market Jamaica in Canada or the UK.

The JTB said that prior to the pandemic, FINN Partners provided “regular” public relations activities, which included news releases, statements, the monitoring of and response to media queries, managing media and influencer requests for visits to Jamaica, as well as leveraging and recommending media opportunities in print, television, radio and social media.

The state agency said that at the onset and during the pandemic, FINN Partners continued with “many” of the listed activities.

It said the company also formulated Jamaica’s public relations strategy for recovery and developed the ‘Jamaica CARES’ campaign, which, it said, spoke to the island’s COVID-19 protocols and highlighted the country as a safe, seamless, and secure destination.

The JTB said that after FINN Partners’ contract came to an end, a competitive procurement process was done to select a new agency.

FINN Partners did not opt to participate in the competitive bid “because their account leader became very ill”, the JTB said.

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has touted what he described as a faster-than-expected recovery in the sector, noting that all major markets were seeing positive growth.