The head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) said Tuesday that her members are seeing an uptick in the tourism sector, even as she says "we can probably do a little bit more" to boost the level of growth.
Nicola Madden Greig, having listened to presentations from both Dr Wykeham McNeill, the tourism minister, and Shahine Robinson, the opposition spokesperson on tourism, in the Sectoral Debate Tuesday, said while there is positive growth, "we would like to increase that growth number and maybe move into double figures".
"Even though we are not there yet, we all have to pull together to get that done, and that does not just mean the tourism sector, but it means Jamaica as a whole," Madden Greig said.
"Some of the problems we have are on account of the perceptions of the island in terms of crime and harassment, and it is something we have to collectively change in order to grow our figures in a more collective and realistic way," the JHTA president added.
Opening the Sectoral Debate in the House of Representatives, McNeill said this year promises to be a significant one for the tourism sector. He also said that for the calendar year 2014, Jamaica had a total of 3.5 million visitors, a seven per cent increase over 2013.
"We're doing very well, arrivals are up, our hotels are full and Sangster International Airport is bursting at the seams. We're expecting to finish the Winter with strong growth overall. Importantly, the reports are that occupancies, especially in the small and medium-sized hotels, are higher than they have ever been, and we expect this trend to continue throughout the Winter," the minister added.
He said too that the visit of United States President Barack Obama to the country last week would serve as a major boost to Jamaica's tourism sector.
"We will long remember the start to his speech: 'Greetings, Massive' and 'What a gwann Jamaica' as well as his visit to the Bob Marley Museum," McNeill said.
"We are honoured and delighted to have had him and it will be good for Jamaica's tourism. ... I for one, wish he would come more frequently as all hotels in Kingston were full, every rent-a-car was rented out. I have invited him back, this time in shorts, with his wife and family and he has promised to come and I now welcome him to the family of those who say, 'Once you go you know'," the minister said, in reference to a tagline used by the Jamaica Tourist Board in its marketing campaign.
McNeill said that while tourism is performing well, "our objective and our policy directives cannot be solely to increase arrival figures, but must be driven by the impact tourism has on the life of the ordinary Jamaican, and to ensure that tourism fulfils its role as a social and economic driver of development in Jamaica."
But Robinson said that the tourism sector, under current leadership, "is yet to realise a clearly articulated, cohesive and credible vision".
"With little in the way of established targets and a strong and clear vision, the minister is left on a lane-less track not knowing where the finish line is. There is no sense as to where we are going and how we are going to get there," she charged.
The Opposition spokesperson said that the tourism sector is underperforming and McNeill is chiefly to blame.
"The Minister is simply unable to think big and would rather accept mediocre growth numbers and a lacklustre approach to tourism development," she said.
Robinson noted that the average increase in arrivals during the four years the Jamaica Labour Party formed the government, between 2007 and 2011, was 80,000 per year. She said for the 12-month period, January to December 2014, there were 2.08 million stopover visitors in Jamaica, representing an increase of 71,772 tourists or a 3.6 per cent increase over 2013.
"The minister boasts of 3.6 per cent, please note how well our neighbours are doing. The minister must desist from gloating at Jamaica's less-than-average performance and instead, focus his energies on preparing for the likely opening-up of Cuba, propelling higher growth in tourist arrivals and improving the nation's tourism product," she said.
"I urge Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller to wake up the tourism minister and get him to set his sights high," she added.