Tourism unity plea
JHTA head blasts people he says are trying to pit small and large players against each other
President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Robin Russell addressing a TEF speed networking event in Montego Bay on Thursday. (Photo: Horace Hines)

MONTEGO BAY, St James — President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Robin Russell has blasted people he accused of damaging the hospitality sector with negative narratives that pit small and large entrepreneurs against each other for a share in the market.

"There are some critics that try to sell the narrative of the big man versus the little man, and I believe it hurts the industry and those of us who are here trying to make that difference," an impassioned Russell argued.

"But can more be done? The answer will always be yes — and that's why we are here today (Thursday). And I thank the players that have made it possible," said Russell.

He added: "There has never been a better opportunity than now to achieve our goals. What I would say is Jamaica is doing very well — or we're doing very well because we were first to market — and as that competition ramps up it is important that we keep our narrative positive.

"It is important that we keep building what we have worked very hard to build, and not tear down," added Russell who was supported by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

"I'm happy for what President Robin said a while ago about the atmosphere that must prevail in enabling the continued growth and recovery of the industry and the thriving of the industry, because it is one thing for us to recover — bearing in mind that recovery takes you back to ground zero — [but] to thrive after recovery is a challenge," argued Bartlett.

The tourism minister charged that, "Some people are feeling that recovery means that everything must happen and that recovery means that the pie is bigger, but what recovery means is that you have a pie and the pie is there but what recovery brings, a lot of times, is more players who want a piece of the pie. So unless you expand the pie, the slices are going to get thinner and thinner or some people will not get anything at all," the tourism minister explained.

"So rather than making great statements about the pie and who is not getting from the pie, let us begin a conversation of how to increase the pie to make the pie bigger so that more people can enjoy a slice of the pie or even a bigger size," added Bartlett.

The two tourism executives were speaking on Thursday at the Montego Bay Convention Centre where the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) hosted a speed networking event. This offered a unique business-to-business opportunity for local manufacturers to supply the tourism industry.

The event format included pre-scheduled 15-minute meetings between managing directors, general managers, and CEOs of local supplier companies and owners/managers of properties, restaurants, attractions, and other tourism entities.

Throughout the day a meeting platform was utilised to ensure that manufacturers were matched with buyers who are interested in the products or services they offer.

According to Bartlett, deals valued at millions of dollars have been agreed for goods and services during the eight years in which the TEF has hosted the speed networking initiative.

"When you consider that since 2016, excluding the pandemic years of 2020 and 2021, tourism suppliers earned some $653 million from participating in speed network events, it can reasonably be argued that over the eight years of its existence, close to a billion dollars in goods and services have been traded right here because our sellers are all Jamaican producers, many of them striving as small and medium tourism entrepreneurs," Bartlett remarked.

"This year nearly 150 participants have registered, representing tourism entities, suppliers and HR [human resource] managers," added Bartlett.

BY HORACE HINES Observer writer

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