Jamaica Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett has lauded travel agents as “true partners for Jamaica” as the destination consistently attains record visitor arrivals, especially over the past two years.
The accolade was showered on the travel agents on Saturday night as the Tourism Minister delivered the keynote address at the Sandals 16th Annual USA Travel Agent Golf Tournament Awards Dinner at Sandals Ochi Beach Resort. He told the 150 team members from North America that their being here provided “a wonderful opportunity for us to show off who our true partners are and who are the great producers for Jamaica.”
Minister Bartlett said Jamaica was “very serious” about honouring travel agents and tour operators “because we are perhaps one of the few countries in the Caribbean that actually gives national honours to our partners both in the distributive trade as well as in other areas of tourism relationships.”
He mentioned that travel agent Edith Baxter from the Edith Baxter Group was awarded the Order of Distinction “in recognition of the work that she has done for tourism in Canada on our behalf.” In October this year, two Americans will be honoured accordingly. Bill DiMaggio of Mark Travel who has brought visitors to Jamaica for 50 years is one and the other John Mullen, now retired from Apple Vacations.
Underscoring that the travel agents’ support and marketing of Jamaica has paid off, Minister Bartlett noted that 50 years ago 400,000 people visited Jamaica as tourists and spent US$87 million compared to 4.3 million visitors last year spending US$3 billion. Additionally, the tourist industry employed 119,000 Jamaicans last year against 9,000 50 years ago. “So you see that because of you, today over 53 percent of the foreign exchange generated by the country is directly from tourism,” he told them.
The Tourism Minister said according to STATIN and the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ), tourism was the only industry that had grown as a percentage of GDP over the last ten years, moving significantly from 7.1 percent in 2007 to 8.4 percent in 2017. “The hard-core fact that these numbers are indicating is the economic value and impact of tourism today,” he said.
Minister Bartlett gave an assurance that Jamaica had grown over the years not just as a centre where people come to enjoy sand, sea and sun “but we have emerged to becoming a safe, secure and seamless destination.”
Minister Bartlett also commended the Sandals for its singular role in creating the world’s top hotel brand in Jamaica and the success of its travel agents golf tournament. He mentioned that as part of the Sports and Entertainment Network in the Tourism Linkages Network, a deliberate effort was being made to develop sports tourism and in that regard, discussions were held with a firm in Canada recently to bring golfers to Jamaica.