OCHO RIOS, St. Ann — Tourism stakeholders in this north coast town are hoping to have early discussions with the newly appointed tourism minister on issues affecting the industry in the parish.
Dr Wykeham McNeill, who shadowed the tourism portfolio while the People's National Party (PNP) was in Opposition, was sworn in on Friday as tourism and entertainment minister under the new Portia Simpson Miller-led administration.
President of the St Ann Chamber of Commerce, Kumar Sujanani, said there are a number of issues affecting the tourism sector in the garden parish, which require the tourism minister's urgent attention.
"We at the St Ann Chamber, at an early date, would like to engage the newly appointed minister of tourism as it relates to pressing problems facing the parish of St Ann," Sujanani said.
"For example, the decline in cruise ship arrivals and the constant problem of harassment on our streets," Sujanani said, insisting that those and other issues must be dealt with if the industry is expected to remain viable.
At the same time, Sujanani said the Chamber was committed to supporting whatever efforts and initiatives the Simpson Miller government intends to pursue to move the industry and the country forward.
Meanwhile, chairman of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Ocho Rios/Runaway Bay chapter, Vana Taylor, said there should be consultation with the new minister on key issues, including the $80M clean-up project for Ocho Rios announced under the previous administration.
"We anxiously would like to know now how it ($80 M) is being spent, because we still don't know how it is being spent and I guess we have to bring it to the new minister's attention," Taylor said.
Former tourism minister, Edmund Bartlett, had announced the major clean-up project for the resort town last September after stakeholders complained about the shabby state of the resort town.
Taylor — who is also chairman of the Jamaica Association of Villas and Apartments (JAVA) — said she was hoping that her area would be re-energised under this new administration.
According to Taylor, persons running vacation villas and apartments were totally neglected under Bartlett's stewardship.
"We were neglected over the last four years, totally," Taylor said. "We weren't included really in anything, other than TEF (Tourism Enhancement Fund) who assisted us when we send in our proposals... we were totally neglected by the past minister."
Taylor said she was anxiously awaiting meetings with both Simpson Miller and the new tourism minister and said "we are really looking forward for JAVA to be included in everything again, we were even taken off a board (on) which JAVA had a representative."
President of the Ocho Rios Craft Council, Devon Mitchell, said there were also a number of pressing issues affecting craft traders in the Ocho Rios region, which he would like the newly appointed minister to address.
Mitchell said the global economic crisis has had a severe negative impact on craft traders and he wants Dr McNeill and the new administration to implement a system where persons in this sector can access funds to help grow their business.
"The global economic crisis had a severe impact on the small craft traders where many of the businesses ran down because they weren't making any money, and we really need something to be done to help them," Mitchell added. "That would give them the type of people power the prime minister speaks about."
He said the craft traders were also hoping for an early meeting with Dr McNeill to discuss a number of other issues, including the construction of an artisan village for Ocho Rios announced under the previous administration.
"We would like to know if they are gong to continue with this artisan village and who are the people who are going to occupy it." Mitchell, who is also president of the Dunn's River Craft Traders' Association, said.