MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica – Tourism transportation operators in Jamaica can still access some $33 million from the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), says its Executive Director, Ian Neita.
A $200 million component of the fund, established in 2004 to improve the tourism product, was specially set aside for small businesses in the sector. Mr. Neita said that not only are some of the earmarked funds still available, but new funding was being planned.
“Some projects would never have gotten off the ground without the assistance of TEF,” he stated in a recent interview. And, noted that the success in mobilizing financial assistance for small tourism businesses has been through the “strong partnership” with JN Small Business Loans Limited (JNSBL), the agency disbursing the funds to borrowers.
Tourism Enhancement Fund Executive Director Ian Neita (left), in conversation with JN Small Business Loans Limited Director Earl Jarrett.
“There is a lot to feel good about,” Mr. Neita said, “Financing has been provided to small hotels, attractions, villas and apartment owners to expand and develop their properties, as well as in the provision of loans to ground transport operators in the tourism sector.”
The maximum loan is $3 million dollars and the funds are provided at a 3 percent interest rate for a maximum term of five years, Frank Whylie, General Manager of JNSBL, said. Loans of up to $1 million are available for ground transportation operators.
JN Small Business Loans Limited General Manager Frank Whylie
One positive example of the impact the TEF funding is the expansion of the Bubbling Spring attraction in St. Elizabeth, Mr. Whylie said. Financing the upgrading of the Middle Quarters mineral bath has helped proprietor Lincoln Fagan turn it into one of the major attractions on the island’s south coast for local residents and tourists.
Blue Mountain Bicycle Tours is another attraction which has benefited from TEF funds. Started in 1991, it has become one of the island’s leading eco-tourism attractions, offering tours of the Blue Mountains.
Providing some of the most affordable accommodation in Negril, Westport Cottages is also a beneficiary of the funding. Proprietor Joseph Matthews has developed a 16-room facility on the Norman Manley Boulevard, that provides basic facilities to a diverse visitor base.
Many other businesses have refurbished and enhanced their operations with the funds they accessed, Mr. Whylie said. A total of 66 loans have been disbursed to the sector.
“The portfolio has performed creditably,” the JNSBL head said. “The programme is ongoing. And, our records show that as at the end of October the arrears stood at approximately 2.24%, which is well within industry norms.”
A subsidiary of Jamaica National Building Society, JNSBL is the largest small and micro business sector lender in the Caribbean, and has loan officers in all major towns across the island, through its link with the building society.
“We have laid the groundwork and now we want to take it to another level,” Mr. Neita stated. He pointed to the need to provide funds “to bring life to the ideas of young entrepreneurs.”
“This is aimed at expanding the range of assistance to businesses already being provided through the TEF, because we are very pleased with the progress of TEF,” Mr. Neita concluded.
The Master Plan for Sustainable Tourism Development was finalized in 2002, and the TEF was developed to implement the recommendations of this tourism plan, Mr. Neita said. The mechanism for achieving this was an Act giving the then Ministry of Industry and Tourism the power to collect fees of US$10 from incoming airline and US$2 from cruise passengers, and the proceeds placed in a dedicated fund to benefit the tourism sector.
Lincoln Fagan, proprietor of Bubbling Spring Mineral Bath in Middle Quarters, St. Elizabeth, tests the waters in the therapeutic spring. Mr. Fagan received a loan from the Tourism Enhancement Fund through JN Small Business Loans Limited to expand his operation.