Interview with Director of Jamaica Tourism Board
By Renese Johnson, CEO/President, Vanguard Leisure Consulting LLC
I recently had the opportunity to briefly interview Mr. Paul Pennicook, the Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourism Board ("JTB"). Along with his team of officials, their initiatives have helped promote the Island's brand and focal point as a major tourist destination. The interview offers insights to interested investors and travelers alike about a Country that has experienced significant increases in tourism (one of four Island countries to exceed the two million visitor mark in the Caribbean), recent tourism-related openings (i.e. the Marriot Courtyard, Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, Hospiten Montego Bay) and foreign investment developments (i.e. Karisma Resorts, Harmony Cove & Celebration Limited) as well as some of the challenges they face (i.e. infrastructure, eastern international exposure).
How has your role influenced the Country's overall tourism sector?
The JTB is an agency under the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment. There is constant collaboration with other agencies of this Ministry as well as other Ministries and agencies of government. Additionally, we also [regularly] work with the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association.
In your opinion, what do you feel is the biggest driver(s) for the notable growth in tourism in Jamaica over the last 20 months?
Expansion in the industry in both the accommodation and attraction sectors, as well as aggressive and effective promotion of the destination [through] traditionally public relations and advertising as well as digital [forums].
According to the WTTC, Tourism accounted for just over 27% of the total GDP contributions to Jamaica. What are the geographical areas that are most important for driving tourism?
Our major resort areas are Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios and although not yet designated as a resort, the Falmouth/Trelawny area is fast becoming a resort area. In addition to these major resort areas, there is also the Southcoast and Port Antonio as well as the capital city, Kingston.
In general, what do you think are some of the greatest assets that Jamaica has to offer that makes it unique to other Island countries in the Caribbean?
In addition to our great beaches and wonderful weather, Jamaica also has rivers, mountains and a rich heritage and culture. The authentic flavours of our Jamaican dishes are infused with special spices. Our sporting prowess is legendary from Herb McKenley to Usain Bolt. The pulsating beat of our reggae music is heard all over the world with icons such as Bob Marley.
What are some challenges that Jamaica still needs to address in order to optimize its growth potential and sustain a strong tourism sector into the future?
We need to continue to explore new [international] markets and additional airlift for the destination due to the fact that the competition continues to increase [in the region].
of the U.S. and Canada as major feeder markets, are their other counties that Jamaica is focused on to help flourish tourism?
Our third largest market is the United Kingdom followed by Continental Europe. The following emerging markets are currently being explored: Latin America and Asia with specific emphasis on Japan, China and in the not too distant future, South Korea.
Who have been your biggest foreign investors in the past? Do you think there has been a shift in the type of foreign investors coming to Jamaica or do you feel it is still the same groups showcasing more aggressive growth?
There was an explosion in the inventory of rooms in the early to mid-2000 with a number of the Spanish companies building hotels in Jamaica. In 2014, we have seen the arrival of the Canadian chain, Blue Diamond Resorts and Mexican chain, Palace Resorts. There is also another Mexican chain, Karisma that has bought lands with plans to build a number of hotels in Jamaica.
Speaking of Latin America, as a Country residing in region that is well connected and interacts regularly with Cuba, what are your thoughts of it potentially opening its doors to U.S. travelers?
We view the opening up of Cuba to the U.S. as an opportunity more so than a threat. We will work with Cuba as part of our multi-destination marketing.
CEO of Caribbean Tourism Organization ("CTO"), Mr. Hugh Riley, has recently stressed the importance of the region to develop more of alliance to market as One Destination. Do you agree or disagree with this business model?
We support the idea of marketing the Caribbean as a single region in the appropriate markets. For example, a Chinese visitor coming to the Caribbean would more than likely want to visit three or more countries on a single trip.
If funding was of no concern for future developments in Jamaica – tourism and/or otherwise – what changes/developments would you like to see implemented to maintain the Island as a competitively advantageous and sustainable Country?
- Major upgrade of the National Water Commission's water distribution system.
- Upgrade of the road network throughout the country.
- New and more effective power generation from the Jamaica Public Service.
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