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Local concerns about tourism development in Negril

Observer writer

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Richard Wallace, recently eleced president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce, is concerned that development plans for the tourist resort exceed the capacity of existing infrastructure.

Wallace, owner of The Boardwalk Village hotel and The Boardwalk Shopping Village in Negril, was elected as the new president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce (NCC) at its recently held annual general meeting. Wallace and his family have been operating hotels and other businesses in Negril since the 1970s. He is a also a councillor for the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA) Negril chapter and sits on the board of the Negril Green Island Area Local Planning Authority (NGIALPA).

Despite high levels of tourist arrivals in Jamaica from which a tourism resort like Negril can benefit, there are a number of challenges involved in the continuing development of the town. The Jamaica Observer spoke with Wallace to gain insight into some of these challenges and the approach he intends to take in his new role to address them.

“We are willing to work with the government to do what is best for Negril through consultation, through information, through advice,” Wallace said.

He explained that with the proposal of a new development order for Negril from the government, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) has been doing presentations to the community regarding future plans. There has also been talk of new, large hotels which will be breaking ground in the near future as well as interest in the area from a number of outside investors.

In light of the high probability of new, substantial developments in Negril, Wallace says such growth would be welcomed by the NCC but it would want to ensure that the necessary infrastructure is in place to support the expansion of commercial activities.

“There are areas of Negril now that have water problems like on the West End,” Wallace pointed out. “What is going to happen when a 1,000-room hotel is built further north of us at the head of the stream, so to speak, in terms of water? It is a valid question because we get our water from that end.”

“These are the concerns we have,” he continued. “So, what we are saying to the government is we don't mind development but make sure you put in proper water, make sure you put in proper sewage treatment, make sure you put in proper roads. Then for all the employees that would be converging on the area, what about infrastructure for them, what about housing, a medical facility and schools for their children? That's what we want to see happening.”

The new NCC president emphasised that the environment is a top priority, explaining that Negril is built around an ecosystem for the beach which is the resort's main attraction. Many factors affect the quality of the water and the reef so these things need to be taken into consideration when development is being allowed, he insisted.

“We are willing to partner with government,” Wallace said when asked how he plans to engage with the authorities on these issues. “We want the government to understand that we are here and we are willing and ready to work with them. We just want our voices to be heard and we want what's best for Negril. What's best may vary depending on where you sit, so we recognise the need for dialogue and compromise. But at the end of the day the people of Negril are its stakeholders, the ones who have real investments here and the ones who stand to lose or gain the most depending on what happens here. We just want to know that what is being done has the best interests of Negril at heart.”

Still on the topic of the environment, Wallace said that Negril's stakeholders are happy about the government's ban on plastics noting that some members of the NCC were already switching from plastic to paper straws or no straws at all before the ban as they realise the damage straws and other plastics can do to the town's environment and marine life.

When questioned about infrastructure issues in the middle of the town, Wallace said that the need for a proper town centre has long been recognised and there were plans in the past through the Tourism Product Development Company Ltd (TPDCO) and the government to revamp the town centre, the park, fishing village and craft market. He revealed that the project never really got underway but now NGIALPA is moving towards getting that project restarted and has the support of the NCC in that endeavour.

Wallace expressed his appreciation for the efforts of Member of Parliament for Westmoreland Western Wykeham McNeill, with whom the NCC has been working and consulting on matters regarding the centre of the town. He also made special mention of the MP's beautification initiatives for Negril.

Wallace is happy with the NCC's close relationship with Jamaican-owned hotels and gave an example of a project to renourish the Negril beach in which the NCC is collaborating with Sandals. However, he said there is very little activity between the chamber and the large foreign-owned hotels. In light of this, Wallace plans to reach out to them and other stakeholders, who are currently not involved, to expand the membership of the NCC.

“We want everybody that is in Negril to become involved in the chamber, even the small, regular people,” he insisted. “You don't have to own a hotel to be a chamber member. You can be a shop or a little bar or have a taxi business. As long as you have a business in Negril we welcome you to the chamber.”

Finally, on the topic of the Noise Abatement Act and the possible establishment of an entertainment zone in Negril, Wallace was very clear that the NCC supports entertainment and events.

“We have been pushing for an entertainment zone for quite some time now,” he stated. “The Negril Chamber of Commerce is not against events and music in Negril. We know that there is a problem between some of our members and promoters due to noise disturbance but we want events because the town and Jamaicans benefit a lot from them.”

Wallace insists that part of his mandate is for more Jamaicans to share a piece of the tourism pie and he points out that entertainment, shows, parties and festivals are definitely areas in which Jamaicans dominate. He therefore wants entertainment to take place but without the disturbance it causes to hotels. He notes that this is done in other cities around the world and that what is needed is a little cooperation and compromise on both sides. He feels an entertainment zone that does not cause disruption to neighbours is the solution and suggested at a recent NEPA consultation that it should be part of any new development order.

“These events are what fill Negril in the off-season and slow times so we do need them,” he said.

As he engages with issues such as these and the interests of Negril's stakeholders, Wallace's new role within the NCC requires him to hit the ground running because while Negril is poised for further development, the environmental, economic and social challenges need to be properly managed in order for any success to be sustainable in the long run. The new president is sure to be kept busy on a number of fronts during his time of service.

The Negril Chamber of Commerce was established in 1983, and its membership comprises hotels, businesses, associations and individuals who are concerned about Negril's economic, social and physical environment.

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