Spanish hoteliers operating in Jamaica have committed to constructing at least 2,000 new residential units for local hotel workers and their immediate families.
The commitment was given during a breakfast meeting with Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett and other Jamaican tourism officials in Spain's capital city, Madrid, last Friday
"Through Spanish hoteliers and other hotel investors combined, we are now seeing firm commitments for the housing for hotel workers," Bartlett told the Jamaica Observer on Saturday.
"This is essential as, given the growth trajectory, with thousands of new hotel rooms under construction we do have a serious and worsening shortage of appropriate housing for tourism workers. The hoteliers have recognised this and know, too, that they cannot operate at an optimal level if workers do not have comfortable living arrangements or are too far away from their properties," added Bartlett.
He told the Observer that as Jamaica's tourism sector continues to boom, Spanish hotel and resort owners, with thousands of rooms in Jamaica, highlighted labour, worker housing, agriculture, and infrastructure as primary focus areas for the sustainable growth of the sector in coming years,
According to Bartlett, the breakfast meeting was held under the Inverotel umbrella, an association representing Spanish hoteliers and operators.
He pointed out that the Spanish hotel operators in Jamaica included Grand Palladium, RIU, Secrets, Iberostar, Excellence, H10, Melia, and Bahia Principe, while the Jamaica Tourist Board head, Donovan White, and senior advisor and strategist in the Ministry of Tourism Delano Seiveright anchored with him.
Discussing extensively human capital development issues, Bartlett reaffirmed that his ministry and agencies have taken a holistic approach with thousands of workers already certified by the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation; many benefiting from housing development projects primarily in conjunction with the Housing Agency of Jamaica, and Tourism Workers Pension Scheme which is now on track to reach 10,000 members during the current winter season, generating more than $350 million in savings.
The Spanish hotel owners also delved into labour, global and local supply chain challenges, agriculture and road infrastructure issues.
"As Jamaica develops, we the Government must work hand-in-hand with our local and international private sector. So beyond the need for housing, we fully acknowledge, too, the challenges in sourcing trained labour, traffic congestion along the main corridors, especially in and around Lucea, Hopewell, Montego Bay, Runaway Bay, Priory, and Ocho Rios and continued supply chain logistics challenges that are both local and international in scale impacting construction, supply of food and drinks in hotels and so on," said Bartlett.
He added that the hotel and resort owners expressed delight at news that several road infrastructure projects are already, or near beginning stages and will alleviate traffic congestion issues.
"This includes the US$274.5-million Montego Bay Perimeter Road Project, a bypass project, which involves the construction of 25 kilometres of roadway and the finalisation of a US$800-million agreement with the International Finance Corporation to develop a new four-lane highway from Rose Hall in Montego Bay, St James, to Mammee Bay, St Ann. The new four-lane highway will, upon completion, bypass congestion-prone spots at Priory, Runaway Bay, and Discovery Bay in St Ann," said Bartlett.
He underscored that plans are advanced to construct bypass roads around Hopewell and Lucea in Hanover.
This is of serious concern to tourism interests given the fact that 4,000 new hotel rooms are to be constructed in Hanover in short order.
Bartlett pointed out that on the agricultural front the Spanish hoteliers reiterated the need for more locally produced items that can meet the growing and enormous demand of the sector.
He said the Spanish hoteliers were pleased with the Government's effort to pull in investors from overseas to collaborate and/or establish agricultural business initiatives on the island, given the huge growth in hotel rooms and subsequent demand in coming years.
"The hoteliers pledged full support in urging international players to invest in Jamaica's agriculture and agri-business sector," said Bartlett.