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Jamaica upbeat about new winter tourist season

THE JAMAICAN government welcomed the 2012-13 winter tourist season pledging to do more for the sector that has brought about immense prosperity to the island.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, who was at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay to greet visitors arriving from the United States, said it was important to always continue improving the product in order to lure more visitors to the island.

"Given the benefits that this industry has brought to Jamaica over several decades, product enhancement is work that must never cease," she said. "Our duty is to keep moving upward and onward. Let us remember with pride that we are senior players in the global tourism industry ... our tourism product and travel trends for both vacation and business have come a long way," she added.

Speaking at the opening of the new VIP lounge at the airport, Simpson Miller said tourism has been one of the leading growth industries in the global economy and represented some 35 per cent of the world's export of services.

"According to the UN World Tourism Organisation, international arrivals are expected to grow by 4.1 per cent annually to 2020," said the prime minister, noting that "Jamaica has been one of the world's popular resort vacation destinations for more than half a century and has seen significant growth of its tourist industry since our Independence".

TOTAL VISITOR ARRIVALS UP

Simpson Miller said that in 2006, total visitor arrivals comprising stopover visitors and cruise passengers passed the three million mark for the first time, while in 2011 total visitor arrivals grew by 8.7 per cent to 3.1 million visitors.

"The latest information is that for the period January to October of this year, there was an overall increase of 12.5 per cent in total visitor arrivals compared to the similar period last year," she said.

Simpson Miller said the tourism industry is contributing between five and eight per cent of total gross domestic product, employing approximately 80,000 people and accounting for some 41 per cent of foreign exchange earnings from the productive sectors in 2011.

"The work of the various administrations over the years to maintain this growth momentum must be commended. The country is holding its market share in the Caribbean tourism market, but faces strong competition from other regional destinations including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Cancun and Mexico.

"Given our economic situation and our determination to put the country on the path of sustainable economic growth, we have no choice but to relentlessly pursue Vision 2030 goals for tourism which include, among other things, a highly integrated tourism industry which can act as a driver for economic development, a tourism product that is diverse and distinctly Jamaican, with internationally competitive standards," the prime minister said.

She said the vision also has the objective of establishing an adequately trained and motivated workforce within the tourism sector as well as a tourism product that is inclusive and facilitates broad participation and a safe, secure and sustainable natural, social and built environment.

"We have already started exploring new possibilities to expand and diversify our tourism product to include health, sports, eco and heritage tourism. Advances are being made step by step and I believe that we need to push seriously in this area ... tremendous investments have been made and work continues apace in the infrastructure development of the country in relation to ports, airports and roadways ... which are especially beneficial to tourism development," the prime minister said.

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