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During the recent Caribbean marketplace, TravelAge West sat down with Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s new Minister of Tourism and Entertainment. McNeill’s job title covers the dual responsibilities of tourism and entertainment.
“With the addition of the entertainment portfolio, the ministry will be expanded,” said McNeill. “However, this is very good as the synergies between tourism and entertainment are strong and potentially profitable.”
The island recently hosted Celine Dion’s first Caribbean appearance when she headlined January’s 16th annual Jazz and Blues Festival. McNeill sees the pairing of entertainment and tourism to be a natural fit.
When asked what his passion was in developing Jamaica’s tourism, Dr. McNeill responded that Jamaica has tremendous opportunities.
“We’re more than a sun, sand and sea destination. We can maximize our natural assets. For example, Port Royal’s pirate history can be developed and our world-famous athletes out of Trelawney can be showcased. You have to constantly reinvent yourself,” he said.
Dr. McNeill pointed out Jamaica’s popular jerk restaurant, Scotchies, as a great example of a company that grew its brand, starting out as a popular local eatery in Montego Bay that attracted attention from tourists and eventually expanded to add locations in Ocho Rios and Kingston.
“Airlift is always an issue. Dealing with it is a daily occurrence,” said McNeill. “We need to attract more airlift.”
He also noted that while South America is an emerging market, 60 percent of Jamaica’s visitors hail from the U.S.
During our conversation, we touched upon a seldom-visited part of the island, a portion of Surrey County that is east of Kingston, on Jamaica’s south coast. McNeill mentioned that the region has potential for tourism development.
“Yes, it does,” said McNeill. “It has the town of Saint Thomas and a natural spring [Bath Fountain] with healing waters. While the sea is choppier off the southeast coast, there is the possibility of attracting the surfing market.”
In the days after Caribbean Marketplace, in an interview with the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper, McNeill discussed that the reestablishment of local resort boards will help provide ordinary Jamaicans with input into the country’s tourism initiatives. The resort boards were disbanded in 2008 under the administration of Edmund Bartlett, the country’s previous tourism minister.
“There is a disconnect between the administrators within the sector and the people on the ground,” said McNeill. “Unfortunately the deactivation of the resort boards under the previous administration has removed that critical link. We are now holding discussions in a bid to re-engage these stakeholders by reestablishing these boards. Once they are revamped, I am convinced that these boards will help significantly in facilitating consultation and they will also ensure that the process of developing resort areas is managed properly.”