All 15 members of Jamaica Tourist Board quit during meeting

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In a stunning development, the entire 15-member Jamaica Tourist Board resigned Nov. 17 during its monthly board meeting in Kingston, Jamaica.

Members of the board claimed they had voluntarily disbanded to allow Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett a free hand to install a new team to deal with the challenges facing the industry in Jamaica.

Bartlett accepted the resignations, saying that "a changing landscape demands a new architecture. We need to rebuild and redesign our structure to allow us not only to survive in these times of economic uncertainty but also to prosper and grow.

"New approaches are needed to fight the major crisis facing the industry," he said.

The move followed an update from Bartlett to the board on his remarks at the recent World Travel Market in London about the state of Jamaica tourism.

At that time, Bartlett painted a far less rosy picture for the upcoming winter season than his earlier tourism forecasts had predicted.

At a press conference convened at the offices of the Ministry of Tourism following the mass exodus of the board, Wayne Cummings, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association and one of the resigning board members, said that the board had unanimously ruled to give Bartlett "leverage to appoint a new board to address the troubling world economic crisis and confront the new tourism realities facing Jamaica."

Other resigning board members included John Lynch, who had been chairman of the JTB and who recently left his post as executive vice president of sales at Unique Vacations, the worldwide representative for Sandals; Basil Smith, former director of tourism; and Carolyn Hayle, head of hospitality and tourism at the University of the West Indies.

Also, Paul Pennicook, formerly with Air Jamaica and now with SuperClubs; Josef Forstmayr, hotelier and former JHTA president; Godfrey Dyer, tourism consultant and former JHTA president; Lionel Reid, former JHTA head; Zein Issa-Nakash, SuperClubs; Ralph Smith, hotelier; and Bert Wright, businessman.

Bartlett indicated that a new board could be in place as early as this week in order to set up shop before the winter tourism season starts on Dec. 15.

The minister has not ruled out the possibility that he might reappoint some of the members who just resigned.

Meanwhile, speculation swirls around the position of director of tourism, vacated by Basil Smith on Oct. 31.

Bartlett declined to comment, but Jamaican newspapers reported that the appointment would go to John Lynch, who had been with the Sandals group for 16 years until he left the post Nov. 7.

Lynch also could be named to his former post of executive chairman of the JTB.

Jamaica's visitor figures topped the 1 million mark in the first six months of 2008, up slightly from the same period in 2007.

At the time, Bartlett described the numbers as the "best ever" and held to his forecast of 5 million visitors a year by 2012.

However, a drop in visitor arrivals due to the financial meltdown in the U.S. prompted Bartlett in mid-October to call for an increase in the tourism budget for more advertising and promotion in key markets in the U.S. and abroad.

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