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$20-billion boost for tourism sector

By INGRID BROWN Associate Editor - Special Assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 15, 2013    

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Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill has said that over $20 billion in investments have been earmarked for Jamaica's tourism sector.

"What we have on the books in terms of investment is about 20 billion in the tourism sector and it brings about 840 rooms on stream which are either new rooms or old rooms that have been completely refurbished," McNeill said.

The tourism minister, who was addressing journalists at the Sunday Observer Press Club at the newspaper's head offices in St Andrew last Thursday, said that Jamaica has seen a significant amount of investments in both new and old properties over the last two years.

The investment, McNeill pointed out, is being made by both local and international interests.

McNeill pointed to some of the latest investments, such as the Kingston-based 130-room Courtyard by Marriott which, he noted, is within schedule for the 2015 completion; the 350-room Royalton White Sands which recently opened in Trelawny, and the Sagicor operated Jewel Paradise Cove in Runaway Bay, St Ann.

He also pointed to the recent completion of the 238-room Riu Palace which is now up and running.

McNeill also made reference to the fact that the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Montego Bay will now be managed by international chain, Hyatt and that construction has already started for the 2014 opening of what will now be an all-inclusive resort.

The other investments, the minister noted, are Karisma Hotels and Resorts which recently opened a five-star Azul Sensatori Jamaica in Negril and the plans for refurbishing of Grand Lido.

"What you have is your traditional investments that are there and a whole new slew of products that's coming on," he said.

This, McNeill insisted, has created a greater demand for Jamaica as a tourist destination.

"What we found when we went to the World Travel Market is that tour operator after tour operator came to say we need more rooms, especially at certain times of the year," McNeill said.

He was also particularly pleased with the investment made by local group Sagicor which has invested in three hotels in three years.

"I am happy that they joined the Jamaican families such as Sandals Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, the Issas, the Hendricksons and a slew of other persons who have made their name not just here but overseas," McNeill said.

The tourism minister said that while it is good to bring visitors to Jamaica's shores there are a number of things that must be done and this includes an input from Government.

"We have to keep ourselves on the cutting edge and of course the investment in the sector is all good, and that is positive, but government also has a role to play," he argued.

Government's involvement, he said, has been in the form of a number of infrastructure work now taking place.

The recent ground breaking for the $400 million project in the resort town of Ocho Rios, work now underway in Negril as well as the Urban Development Corporation's finalisation of work to be done at Port Royal, according to McNeill, are all part of government's input.

"A number of these infrastructural projects will add to what we have to offer on the way and at the same time we are working in the sector with things like our language training programmes," McNeill said.

The language training programme, he said, is already oversubscribed with various personnel from the sector trying to make up the first batch of 300 persons who will be trained in another language.

Where the biggest difference can be made, according to McNeill, is for Jamaica to produce a lot of what is consumed in the many hotels, hence the establishment of a special committee which has been set up at the tourism ministry to address this.

"They are doing studies and needs assessment and funding for the things and even the World Bank and others are very interested in this move because of the potential," he said.

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