MONTEGO BAY, ST. JAMES - Since 2016, the Ministry of Tourism’s Speed Networking Event, organized by the Tourism Linkages Network (TLN), has generated over $700 million in business between local small and medium enterprises.
The annual one-day event is geared to putting producers of goods and services for the tourism industry in touch with buyers so as to boost consumption of local products and the local economy.
Speaking at the seventh staging of the TLN Speed Networking event on March 31, 2022 at the Montego Bay Convention Centre, Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett, underscored that the $700 million generated did not include large businesses, "but the small people who sell condiments, art, crafts, and the basic little things that add value in a hotel situation that enhances the look and feel and enables a tourist to take a little piece of the treasures of Jamaica with them in their suitcase back home."
Mr. Bartlett told the 110 registered sellers and over 50 buyers that their coming together for this purpose was "to establish very strongly that tourism is our business and that we can make wealth stay in Jamaica, rather than leave with the tourists when they go back."
He reminded them that today’s trading environment was different from that of 2019, prior to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic that slowed down activities, but that in the last six or so months, there has been a resurgence "and this return to activity is being challenged by the lack of resources coming from the period of the pause."
He said because of tourism’s resilience over any other industry and its ease of convertibility, "it is the preferred agent for economic recovery after a disruption and recession" and the participants should seize the opportunity created by a slowdown in global trade to produce and market locally."
The value of the speed networking event was also underscored by the presidents of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Clifton Reader, and the Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association, John Mahfood.
Mr. Reader said that with over 350,000 members and associates of the JHTA, there was a deliberate move to link tourism partners to ensure retention of the tourism dollar. "It makes no sense when we announce billions of dollars earned by tourism, but the most important question is always, what is the multiplier effect, and secondly, what is retained in our local communities," Mr. Reader said.
He stressed, "We have to make sure that we build a sustainable tourism sector for the development and enrichment of our people."
Speaking of the quality of the tourism product, Mr. Mahfood said, "Our other business sectors in Jamaica can learn from the tourism sector in terms of developing products that are the best in the world and that offer the best customer service."
He cited TLN Speed Networking as one means of reducing the overdependence on imported food items, stating that the key issue was importing too much and it was time to leverage local manufacturers and help to reduce the production gap.
Noting the need to achieve a sense of equilibrium between the level of imports and the expertise of experts, he pointed to the Speed Networking event as one example of the way forward.
"The Tourism Linkages Speed Networking event characterises a movement towards the ideal of supporting local; this event provides a gateway for Jamaican companies to not only display their products and services, but more importantly, develop partnerships with prospective buyers that will help to improve the outlook of their businesses in the coming years," said Mr. Mahfood.