MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – The Government of Jamaica is viewing Entertainment and Sports as two of the pillars of economic opportunity and social mobility for the people.
With Jamaicans excelling in both fields, “government has placed the development of entertainment and sports high on our national agenda for economic development,” said Tourism and Entertainment Minister, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill.
McNeill was addressing members of the highly influential Black Entertainment and Sports Lawyers Association (BELSA) last Wednesday (Oct. 21st) night at the opening reception of its four-day 35th annual conference at the Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall.
BELSA members have been a major driving force behind the success of many of the more successful entertainers and sportsmen and sportswomen in the United States of America. Counted among them is foundation member Larkin Arnold, whose strong support for Black music helped to propel the late Michael Jackson and a host of other American entertainers to superstardom.
Minister McNeill said the fact that so many African Americans dominated both entertainment and sports was both a tribute to natural talent as well as to organisations such as BELSA vigorously protecting their interests.
Underscoring that Jamaicans were also at the top of their game in both fields, Dr. McNeill said it was “something of a conundrum for family members like us to have to continue to compete so vigorously against each other. It seems that whenever you have a big sporting event like Olympics and World Championships, it’s only America and Jamaica that dominate the field. Actually, the rest of the world seems to be just onlookers when we put our spikes on!”
The theme for the conference is “Exceeding the Vision: Honouring the Past, Treasuring the Present, Shaping our Future” and Minister McNeill underscored that the people of Jamaica and America’s African American community shared a common history and a common ancestry.
“The sharing of a common history has translated into common challenges as we function in the world community. What we have discovered, and what is now generally acknowledged, possibly with some reluctance, and indeed some rather esoteric explanations, is that our people are exceptionally gifted and talented in the areas in which you operate. I speak of the worlds of entertainment and sports. We share common ground in that regard,” he said.
Note was also taken of the fact that in popular culture, Jamaican entertainers were becoming a greater part of the fabric of American popular music and that in the world of hip hop and dancehall the difference was neither recognized nor differentiated.
Minister McNeill said Government was vigorously leveraging the global appeal of the local entertainment industry to build Brand Jamaica internationally and attract more visitors to the island.
He was pleased that tourism had arguably become the strongest sector in the economy, earning the largest amount of foreign exchange and providing thousands of jobs.
He noted that there was an unprecedented investment boom in the sector with Karisma Hotels and Resorts set to invest more than US$900 million in a mega hotel development in St. Ann. The project will add 4,000 new rooms and provide over 8,000 jobs directly and an additional 5,000 indirectly.
“As we seek to grow our tourism industry we are leveraging our cultural heritage as a source not only of national pride but also in response to new trends in world tourism. This shows greater interest in local culture by more educated travellers who wish to enjoy not only the traditional sun, sea and sand but seek an authentic experience with local culture,” said Dr. McNeill.
He added, “we take very particular interest in ensuring that the framework is in place so that Jamaica’s achievement in sports and entertainment can be perpetuated with a proper base.”