Bruce GoldingKINGSTON, Jamaica -- In an attempt to diversify its leisure market, Jamaica is moving forward on several fronts, according to Prime Minister Bruce Golding (pictured at left).

Initiatives include the government's recent approval of a policy to allow casino gambling, a renewed focus on the development of tourism on Jamaica's east end (centered around Port Antonio) and the promotion of new attractions that focus on the country's culture and folklore.

"We still need to stitch up our various economic sectors, such as agriculture and manufacturing, to synchronize with the tourism sector to extract as much as we can to build the tourism industry," Golding said.

Jamaica's recent tourism figures indicate that tourism's renewed efforts are paying off. Edmund Bartlett, tourism minister, reported that first-quarter visitor numbers were up 13% over the same period last year.

"Jamaica welcomed more than 1.2 million visitors this winter," Bartlett said. "That's a record in a highly challenging and increasingly competitive environment."

Both officials addressed guests at a welcome reception at Vale Royal, the prime minister's official residence and one of the oldest continuously occupied houses in Jamaica.

The 2008 Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), the annual event that matches buyers and suppliers worldwide, takes place April 26 and 27 in Kingston.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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