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Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett

Regional tourism industry set to take centrestage

THE REGIONAL tourism industry is set to take centrestage during the UNWTO, Government of Jamaica and World Bank Group Conference on Jobs and Inclusive Growth: Partnerships for Sustainable Tourism, at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, St James, November 27-29,

Speaking at a press conference on June 6 at the Consulate General of Jamaica during Caribbean Week in New York, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett noted that given the region’s dependency on tourism, it was important that such a conference provide solutions on how the Caribbean can better leverage this industry.

"The conference programme, though global in nature, is highly significant to the Caribbean, and, therefore, we felt that we should incorporate a programme specific to the Caribbean and some of the issues we grapple with. This programme will take place on the first day of the conference on November 27," noted Bartlett.

With the regional focus on opening day, the Ministry of Tourism received the endorsement of the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) from Secretary General Hugh Riley and the
Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association (CHTA) by way of Chief Marketing Officer Matt Cooper.

Bartlett stated that tourism was the single largest generator of foreign exchange in 16 of the 28 countries in the Caribbean and the sector receiving the most foreign direct investment, adding that the region has a higher proportion of total employment and percentage of GDP derived from tourism than any other region in the world.

According to Bartlett, "It is estimated that one in every four persons is employed by tourismrelated activities, and the sector accounts for 41 per cent of all exports and services in the
Caribbean and 31 per cent of all gross domestic product."

Additionally, Bartlett indicated that similar to what was done with the global aspect of the conference, the organisers have included a number of Caribbean themes within the call for papers,
which cover tourism and sustainability; where the threats, risks, and challenges will be discussed; the strengthening of the human capital and human capital trends; the tourism value chain linkages;
and technology and innovation.

According to Bartlett, one of the key expected outcomes from this global conference is the Montego Bay Declaration. "At the end of the conference, there will be the compilation of the Draft Montego Bay Declaration. From this will flow an action plan for tourism destinations to follow, as well as the publication of the second volume of the UNWTO Global Report on Public Private Partnerships."

Another feature of the conference will be the presentation of the Caribbean Legends Awards, the first of its kind, which will be a collaborative effort involving the Ministry of Tourism of Jamaica, the CTO, and the CHTA, supported by UNWTO. These awards, in the categories of land, sea, and air, will be given to individuals that have made an indelible mark on the tourism industry, not just regionally, but globally, enhancing the Caribbean brand.

"With all 24 NCAA Division I sports teams now able to travel to the US Virgin Islands for summer tours, we look forward to being part of the growth of the Paradise Jam competitions and to the possibility of hosting other NCAA sporting events," the governor said, recognising the potential for a significant positive impact on the territory's economy.

"This is an amazing opportunity to expand our sports tourism portfolio and our facilities."

The USVI and Basketball Travelers have partnered to bring five men's college basketball teams to the territory as early as this August now that the USVI has been approved as an international or foreign tour destination for Division I colleges across the United States.

Hawkinson, whose Basketball Travelers organises both domestic and international basketball competitions for college and high-school teams, said there are 340 Division I universities in the United States, each with approximately 25 sports with 50 potential teams (men and women combined) that can now visit the islands.

"We're very excited to build on the success we've had for the last 18 years with Paradise Jam and to bring additional teams here. We're looking forward to this new initiative and continuing our great partnership with the US Virgin Islands and its people," he said.

Currently visiting the US Virgin Islands for the 50th time, Hawkinson said his love affair with the territory is still as strong as it was 20 years ago when he first visited on a cruise ship. "That's what makes your islands. Everywhere I go, (people) are friendly ... and it's so wonderful to know that when we bring groups here, people are friendly and they understand basketball and sports." 

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