ALL THINGS TOURISM

Jamaica 2018 | TOURISM & ENTERTAINMENT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to John Lynch, Chairman of Jamaica Tourist Board, on drawing international tourists, diversifying and upgrading offerings, and enhancing regional cooperation.

 John Lynch
BIOGRAPHY
John Lynch is one the Caribbean’s most influential and sought after travel and tourism experts. For more than 30 years, he has been a steady force behind many of the Caribbean’s most visible travel brands including Air Jamaica, Sandals Resorts, Beaches Resorts, Royal Plantation, and Destination Jamaica. In addition to his current role as Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Lynch also consults on major tourism projects. He is Chairman of the Montego Bay Convention Centre, and Head of the Shovel Ready Program, which is focused on securing investments to build new hotels in Jamaica.

How do you support the Jamaican brand internationally to attract more tourists?

Jamaica is an interesting place primarily because of our warm and friendly people. We have a reggae superstar and the fastest man on the earth, and Jamaicans are always doing something that is interesting and worthy of international attention. We even have a professional female bobsled team that participated in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. As the agency that markets Destination Jamaica, the Jamaica Tourist Board has offices in our biggest market, the US, Canada, our second-largest market, as well as the UK. We also have an office in continental Europe that is headquartered in Berlin that supports activities in Germany, Holland, Spain, Portugal, France, as well as Italy. We recognize Europe as a market for the future and also Latin America. We have a Latin American representative in Mexico with representatives in all the large countries such as Brazil, Chile, and Argentina. Though we advertise in most of these markets, we put more weight on the US, Canada, and the UK. With the advent of new hotels and new investors coming into the country, the accommodation landscape has increased dramatically.

Are you promoting new tourist destinations in Jamaica?

We are always promoting the diverse offerings of our tourism product. People are always surprised at the depth of our product given that we are a small island. Every resort area is uniquely different. For example, there is Port Antonio, a special place with no big hotels but cottages instead; people are protective about the land. People do not want to see 800 room hotels, and I agree, as the landscape is beautiful and delicate. Once the road infrastructure from Kingston to Port Antonio gets completed, the parish of St. Thomas will likely see quite a lot of new tourist facilities because the sea and the beaches there are incredible and are totally underutilized. Once we get the infrastructure in, development will come.

Do you also communicate with investors in order for them to develop tourism offerings in Jamaica?

We developed a program called the Shovel Ready program, because investors do not have much time to waste on bureaucracy; they buy a plot of land and want to get it going as quickly as possible. We work with JAMPRO, the trade and investment company, to help investors because the more hotel rooms we have, the more people we can accommodate. This program is in fact funded by the Tourism Enhancement Fund, which also benefits from bringing more people to the island.

What successes have been linked to this program?

There is a major project we are working on currently with a company called Karisma, which has bought a 400-acre piece of land. We are working with it to get it Shovel Ready. When it is finished, it will be 10 hotels with 5,000 rooms. Karisma hopes to launch three of the hotels in early 2018. It is on the north coast, just out of Runaway Bay, and the three hotels will have about 3,000 rooms.

How do you see the evolution of the tourism industry, and what are the trends and the outlook for the industry?

People like new experiences, and in order to be successful, we have to keep our products fresh, which means that even if we have an older product, we have to evolve. As the newer hotels come in, they get more competitive in terms of what they offer. Visitors are drawn to the unique experiences that are here in Jamaica; our cuisine, our music, our hospitable people, and our contagious vibe—the thrill of spending time in a community and hanging with the community members is second to none. As we pursue the Asian market, we will have many more Chinese and Indians, and the world's middle class is expanding rapidly. Our product must be ready for that market as well.