Major shake-up looming at JTB - Some overseas offices may be closed
published: Thursday | November 21, 2002
By Garwin Davis, Assistant News Editor
Simpson Miller, Pickersgill, Stewart and Bartlett
THE JAMAICA Tourist Board is set to undergo major restructuring which could result in the closure of several of its overseas offices, industry sources say.
The Ministry of Tourism is reported to be examining the viability of keeping some of these offices open, in the face of criticisms that the agency spends more on administration than on its primary role of promoting the island as a destination overseas.
"It's a case of simple mathematics," a source said. "How much are we spending on administration... to keep some of these overseas offices open... as opposed to what we are pumping into promotions? As it is now, there is a great imbalance in favour of administration and the Ministry has very little choice but to address what has now become a major concern."
The JTB has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Frankfurt, Toronto, Rome, Paris and Tokyo and it has representatives on its payroll in other major U.S. and European cities.
Of the US$35 million JTB budget, over 25 per cent is being spent on administration. This has not been sitting well with senior industry players, including representatives of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), who have criticised the JTB for "running a bloated bureaucracy."
In July, the JTB promised to scale down "aspects of its operation."
Outgoing Director of Tourism, Fay Pickersgill, had said then that the magnitude of the cuts would be determined based on the results of a pending assessment by the JTB's Finance and Administration Division.
She also discussed the possibility of closing several overseas offices. Portia Simpson Miller, then Tourism Minister, had, however, warned that while she understood and "appreciated the need" to advertise, "we cannot advertise away the challenges we face abroad and locally. While I readily agree the island needs to maintain a presence in critical markets overseas, advertising should not be viewed as the end-all," she said. "It is also not as simple as closing offices and freeing up money for advertising... that is not something we can arbitrarily do."
But according to sources, the "overriding view" now, especially in light of the problems at the New York office, "is to streamline overseas operations to enable more money to go towards advertising."
Head of the Sandals Resort chain, Gordon 'Butch' Stewart, said back in July that the JTB only needed to have a centrally located office in Miami from which to operate. Opposition Spokesperson on Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, contends that some of the offices should be closed.
"The New York experience, if nothing else, has made this quite clear. We needn't be spending so much of the budget on administrative cost. It just doesn't make any sense... putting more money into marketing is the route to go."
The JTB's New York office has recently been audited, following allegations of fraud and corruption involving senior tourism officials. The allegations have prompted the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) to call for a forensic auditing of all the JTB overseas offices.
Repeated efforts to get a comment from Industry and Tourism Minister, Aloun Assamba, were unsuccessful.