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MoBay centre needs help

Published:Monday | January 11, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

Civic centre plans

San Juan, Puerto Rico:

TOURISM INTERESTS are warning that the multibillion-dollar Montego Bay Convention Centre (MBCC) could become a white elephant if a management company is not appointed soon to commence the marketing of the facilities.

Set for completion in November 2010, stakeholders in the tourist industry expressed concerns at a Gleaner Editors' Forum last week that outside of Caribbean Market-place 2011, there are no other meetings booked for the centre.

"If it's not booked for the next six to seven meetings, it's going to remain empty for the next two years," Wayne Cummings, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, said.

Owned by the Urban Develop-ment Corporation (UDC), Cummings argued that the facility does not yet have a face, and other issues include the fact that his association has still not signed off on the design.

The US$45.2-million facility will provide latitude for the country to properly tap into the US$150-billion meetings and incentives market which, for years, has not realised its true potential because of lack of space for groups of more than 2,000 people.

Jamaica House, late last year, announced that the Government would be seeking to divest its share in the convention centre.

Government has also announced that it would divest the Trelawny Multi-purpose Stadium, which was constructed to host the opening ceremony for the 2007 Cricket World Cup. The stadium, which was constructed at a cost of US$30 million, has been underutilised.

Procuring the services

Meanwhile, in response to the concerns, the UDC ignored some of the questions posed by The Gleaner, tersely stating that in collaboration with the Jamaica Tourist Board, they were currently in the process of procuring the services of a company to manage and market the MBCC.

"There is no question that we are off to a late start," Tourism Director John Lynch admitted yesterday during the start of the Caribbean Marketplace in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

He, however, argued that the final touches were now being placed on the request for proposals.

"We are going to ask some of the leading convention managers to send us proposals," Lynch said, adding that there were a number of people who had expressed interest.

"But we have to follow the process. The law says that you have to put out the thing to tender. The UDC owns the facility, all we have been asked to do is lend our expertise."

Prime Minister Bruce Golding broke ground for the Chinese-funded project last February. In his speech, he described it as a significant development for stakeholders in the tourist industry,

"It is a dream come true," Golding said.

He asserted that the long-overdue project was a strategic addition to the island's tourism product and tourism infrastructure.

Meanwhile, Pauline Reid, a past president of the Montego Bay Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has said Jamaica had a reputation in the international marketplace as a destination that puts on the best shows and conventions.

"Our warm hospitality, spirited culture and our expertise in this area give us that added advantage, we therefore need to capitalise on this in a positive way by creating a niche in groups and convention business," Reid said.

She said the centre would no doubt add diversity in marketing Jamaica's tourism product and would serve to boost the product in an extremely competitive environment, but a team needed to be put in place now.