"Just to mention the name Jamaica anywhere in the world and you are likely to see the look of recognition on the faces of those present," the most honorable Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller said as she inaugurated the Jamaica Investment Forum 2012. "Indeed, the faces of those present may even come aglow: Jamaica is simply magic."
Jamaica's Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (C) speaks with her minister of Industry, Anthony Hylton (L), and Abel Matutes, CEO of Fiesta Hotel Group, during the Jamaica Investment Forum in Montego Bay, March 1, 2012.
The nation's first major investment forum, hosted by Jamaica's newly elected prime minister in concert with the 50th anniversary of Jamaica's independence, took place at the recently opened Montego Bay Convention Center from Feb. 29-March 2.
"Investment, both local and foreign, occupies a central place in our economic development strategy," Simpson declared. "We have set our sights firmly on expanding our outreach to investors."
One of Jamaica's three main focuses for investment was tourism.
By the numbers, the UNWTO reports record worldwide tourist arrivals of 980 million for 2011 - an increase of 4.4% over the previous year. In 2012, that number is expected to surpass the one billion mark. Jamaica alone attracted two million visitors in 2011 with an additional one million cruise ship stopovers. Those that flew in arrived at three international airports on 40 different airlines and, once on island, had the option of visiting roughly 90 tourist attractions.
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At its peak between the years of 2006 and 2009, the FDI in tourism was nearly $200 million per year.
While these numbers are impressive, Simpson, along with the honorable Dr. Wykeham McNeill, MP Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Mr. Claude Duncan, Vice President of Investment Promotions at JAMPRO, and Mrs. Evelyn Smith, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association, said there are still many more opportunities and untapped resources.
These Jamaican officials laid out several reasons why their country is ripe for investment. Here's a look at 10 of them:
The Jamaican Brand
The Jamaican brand is one of the most recognizable on the planet, thanks in no small part to the music of Bob Marley and the success of several Jamaican athletes in the Olympic Games (both summer and winter). Its reputation for laidback relaxation derives, in part, from the gentle grooves of reggae music. Furthermore, Jamaican jerk, patties, and rum are enjoyed the world over. Tourism officials note that all of these cultural outputs have yet to be fully explored or exploited on island. In short, there is a need for new cultural venues to highlight these aspects that put Jamaica on the world map.
Geographical Location and Landscape
Located at the crossroads of North and South America and within a day's fight from Europe, Jamaica is easily accessible to a large pool of frequent travelers. With an English-speaking population, the 2011 World Travel Awards winner for Leading Caribbean Destination is particularly attractive to Britons, Canadians, and Americans, its three largest visitor groups. They come to visit Jamaica's famed beaches, azure waters, and lush rainforests. With the vast majority of Jamaicans living in or around Kingston or Montego Bay, the bulk of the island remains relatively untapped and in pristine condition.
The Jamaica Promotions Corporation (JAMPRO) is a major advantage Jamaica has over its competitors. Established in 1988 to stimulate, facilitate, and promote the development of trade and industry, and export and investment activities in all sectors of the island's economy, JAMPRO is the gateway that connects the world to Jamaica, enabling entrepreneurs from around the globe to tap into opportunities in the country. The organization operates under the direction of the Ministry of Industry, Investment, and Commerce and serves like a guide ushering prospective investors through the process by helping them understand each step from navigating local laws and regulations to finding ideal sites for development.
Jamaican business transactions have been known to get caught in a bottleneck, moving at "Jamaican time." However, if the nation's first major investment forum is any indication, Portia Simpson Miller's government is eager to make Jamaica both ripe for investment and easy for investors. "What makes Jamaica unique in the region?" Simpson asked investors on Thursday. "The political will." Her predecessors helped usher in provisions like the Hotel Incentives Act, Timeshare Act, and Casino Gaming Act to work toward a more enabling environment for anyone interested in the tourism sector. At the Jamaica Investment Forum 2012, Simpson made it clear that she was personally motivated to keep the ball rolling and even meet with any private investors interested in major projects in Jamaica.
New Convention Center
The $45 million Montego Bay Convention Center officially opened in 2011, offering a state of the art facility for large functions on the north coast of Jamaica. Funded through a partnership between the Jamaican and Chinese governments, the center features more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space, over 20,000 square feet of banquet facility, and more than 11,000 square feet of meeting space.
New Highways and Improved Infrastructure
In the past decade, Jamaica has invested millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades like the TransJamaican Highway. There are three international airports including the ultra-modern Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay, widely referred to as "the gateway to the Caribbean." New cruise ports like that at Falmouth were added while others have been upgraded. Understanding that the nation's natural beauty is its biggest selling point, officials have worked to ensure environmental protection while improving the infrastructure.
Push for Health and Wellness Tourism
Between 2000-2010, Jamaica's tourism industry saw substantial growth with some 7,000 rooms added across the island. Most of this came in the form of all-inclusive suites. Next up, Jamaica hopes to capitalize on the budding health tourism industry by becoming a destination to rival those in Asia for both offshore health care and ethnomedicine. Jamaica's MP Minister of Health, the honorable Dr. Fenton Ferguson, noted that health care is one of the nation's biggest success stories. Jamaica boasts some of the world's best nurses and, capitalizing on the global trend of health tourism, Dr. Ferguson hopes to attract investors to create retirement villages, herbal escapes, and luxury spas. Additionally, Jamaica has many natural hot springs that are "ripe for investor participation" and opportunities in refurbishing two famous spas, the Milk River Hotel and Spa in Clarendon and the Bath Fountain Hotel and Spa in St. Thomas.
A Need for Mid-Range Business Hotels
Jamaica has no shortage of all-inclusive resort options, but very little in the way of mid-range options for solo travelers. With its recent push for business investors, it's in desperate need of facilities to house business travelers. It's hard for a businessman to work in an all-inclusive atmosphere full of families and spring breakers. Furthermore, they may get little out of the all-inclusive amenities if they're out working all day. Areas like Montego Bay in particular need mid-range hotel alternatives.
Caribbean's Largest English-Speaking Nation
Jamaica is the third-largest English-speaking nation in the Americas and the largest English-speaking outsourcing location in the region. Its relative stability, proximity to the United States and Canada, and competitive wages (approximately 40-60% lower than the U.S.) have attracted several international companies.
The Jamaican People
Jamaica is a land of smiles and the people are what separate this small island from its even smaller neighbors further down the Caribbean chain. Rated No. 3 on the most recent Happy Planet Index, the warmth of the Jamaican people is evident from the moment you step off the plane. Perhaps because the economy is so dependent on the service industry, Jamaicans truly understand the meaning of hospitality.