BUSTLING MONTEGO BAY

Jamaica 2018 | MONTEGO BAY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to the late Dittie Guise, General Manager of Montego Bay Convention Centre (MBCC), on marketing the convention center, creating an integrated tourist experience, and preparing for more events and visitors.

Dittie Guise
BIOGRAPHY
Dittie Guise was a nationally recognized leader of the hospitality industry and was the General Manager for the SMG Montego Bay Convention Centre. Previously, Guise led the Greater Columbus Convention Center in Ohio (US), directing operations and overseeing its expansion. She steered the Montego Bay Convention Centre since its inception in 2011 until her passing in March 2018 and oversaw its steady growth in becoming an economic engine for the city. Guise held membership in leading industry organizations, including Meeting Planners International and the Professional Conference Management Association. She was on the board of the Philadelphia Hospitality Inc.

How has the convention center evolved since 2011?

SMG, the management company, came on board in January 2011, and in the following six months, MBCC was in consultation on the structuring of the convention center. In July, SMG was formally engaged to manage and operate the facility. MBCC has come a long way since then. One of the major challenges we had in the early stages was getting the right resources to help market the center. That situation has improved significantly since MBCC's alignment with the Ministry of Tourism, which has led to substantial gains. 2017 was MBCC's best year ever, and MBCC was able to accomplish what was wanted with regards to its targets. For this year, which finishes in March 2018, MBCC is on point to exceed its goals. Much of this has to do with the fact that MBCC has been given additional resources to market the center internationally. The Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, is a firm believer and understands the convention center business, which really is an asset to MBCC. We recently hosted the UNWTO Global Tourism Conference on Sustainable Development and Tourism Partnerships. Before that, MBCC held the NCAA Jamaica Classic Basketball Tournament for the first time and now has a 10-year commitment to host that event. The all-around economic impact not only benefits Montego Bay but Jamaica as well, and this is quite impressive.

How does MBCC plan to generate more revenue in the upcoming years, and how can you get more utilization?

What would really help MBCC get more utilization is to get a hotel on site. MBCC has challenges with is the peak season for tourism, from the end of November to about the beginning of April. There are many important conventions that MBCC would like to host but is not able to because a lack of hotel rooms. Most hotels are already booked during the peak season or winter tourist season. MBCC's hotel would have mainly a business focus and would provide the room count needed to attract those conventions during the peak season. MBCC is also working on a sponsorship package; we are giving businesses the opportunity to advertise their products here and promote them during major conferences.

What kind of international events is MBCC looking to organize in the coming year?

MBCC is actively working with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB). The chairman of JTB is also the chairman of MBCC's board, and this provides a good synergy. In April 2017, MBCC also hired a national sales manager who is based in Washington DC. She is helping us maximize our international relations. MBCC currently has commitments with Kiwanis International, FIFA, and Latin Finance but the center is extremely flexible and can accommodate performances, sporting events and conferences; as a matter of fact, MBCC is in discussions to host a karate and boxing tournament as well.

Where do most of MBCC's foreign visitors come from?

The US provides the most visitors, and then MBCC has regional visitors followed by Canada and Europe. MBCC tries to develop a one-stop shop scenario to make it easier for visitors. For example, MBCC works closely with JTB to ensure that tourists are well educated on the customs and immigrations procedures. This way MBCC is able to improve visitors' experiences at the convention center. The Ministry of Tourism is now able to work with customs, making the process of importation of conference equipment easier than before, which has been an advantage to MBCC. MBCC's pricing is based on prices in the US, though there are discounts for local events; MBCC's pricing is very competitive. There is excellent audiovisual equipment on site, a great selection of tables and chairs, and an upgraded Wi-Fi system. MBCC is fully prepared for an extremely busy 2018.