JHTA members split over site for Cricket World Cup
There is a fierce battle raging within sections of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, whose members include some of the island’s most powerful businessmen and women, as they choose sides in the debate over the local venue of the 2007 Cricket World Cup.
The Kingston chapter fired the first salvo, issuing a January 19 press release lobbying for the matches to be played at the capital city’s historic Sabina Park and not at the US$25-million multi-purpose complex being proposed for Trelawny.
“Kingston is the heartbeat of Jamaica and Sabina is cricket – the ultimate venue for World Cup 2007,” the chapter said. They are pushing for a US$20-million upgrade for Sabina to get it ready in time.
But Godfrey Dyer, president of the JHTA, has made it clear that the Corporate Area arm was not speaking for the entire organisation when it threw its support behind Sabina. He, in fact, was recently appointed head of a Montego Bay lobby group of business interests that is backing the Trelawny project.
“The JHTA has not discussed it and we have not taken a position on it,” Dyer told the Observer. “I don’t think the JHTA will take a position on it because we will have conflicting interests. We want to leave the (national body of the) JHTA out of it.”
The 2007 games are expected to be a fillip not only to local cricket but to tourism as well. While Sabina Park has long been mooted as the site for the Cricket World Cup 2007, there has also been a strong push out of Trelawny. Proponents of that plan have argued that the western end of the island will easily be able to supply the number of hotel rooms needed, unlike Kingston.
But those pushing the idea for a Sabina Park match, pointing to the rich history behind the Kingston facility, say visiting cruise ships will double as hotel rooms, and argue that the Trelawny stadium – if it can be built in time – might become a white elephant after the games.
While Dyer steered clear of speaking on the issue in his capacity as JHTA head, some individual chapter chairmen had no such qualms. Horace Peterkin, leader of the JHTA’s Montego Bay grouping, has made it clear that his chapter is firmly behind the Trelawny project.
The Kingston lobby group’s informal discussion of its proposal at a recent JHTA meeting had been impressive, he said. But not enough to win over him and his members.
“We respect the history and the legacy of Sabina Park,” the hotelier said, “but this is an opportunity to generate wealth for the entire Jamaica on a long-term basis. We support the Trelawny location.”
A vote had been taken at the JHTA Montego Bay chapter’s last meeting but they had opted not to go public. But with the Kingston chapter’s lobby efforts intensifying, the rules of the game have changed.
“Now we are free to issue a statement,” Peterkin rationalised.
According to Peterkin, in addition to JHTA members, the Montego Bay lobby group includes most, if not all, of the city’s business leaders. Their vision is for the multi-purpose complex to be linked to the long-awaited convention centre that has been planned for the western city.
At the same time, he countered criticism that the Trelawny complex would become a white elephant once the games are over, saying it could be used to develop sports tourism in the western end of the island. The venue, he said, could be used as a practice centre by US-based sporting teams during their off-seasons.
It has been suggested that the chapters would vote along geographical lines – with those in the western end of the island backing the Trelawny project and those closer to Kingston backing Sabina.
The Negril group has not yet taken a position, but chairperson Carolyn Wright admitted that her personal preference would be the Trelawny location. Her members, she said, would examine the issue at their next meeting.
The issue is also expected to be raised at the February 17 meeting of the Ocho Rios chapter, according to chairperson Vana Taylor. Unlike Wright, in Negril, Taylor’s personal preference is for Sabina as she believes the capital city, which is trying to revitalise its tourism industry, needs “the support”.
Meanwhile, Port Antonio and the South Coast have opted to walk a fine line. Their official stance is that they would back either side.
But in a frank admission, head of the Port Antonio chapter of the JHTA, Barbara Walker, told the Observer that if she were to “talk selfishly” she would throw her support behind the Kingston lobby.
“Obviously I would prefer it on this side of the island, selfishly speaking,” she said, “because we would get some spin-offs from it. But we are happy it’s in Jamaica, and we should get good publicity from it.”
The South Coast chapter, according to chairperson Judy Schoenbein, is ambivalent about the location.
“Well I can tell you right off the bat that we will support it wherever it goes,” she said. “Whichever choice is made, it’s quite alright with us on the south coast.”