On Friday night, there was near gridlock on Restaurant Row off Times Square as scores of enthusiastic and frenzied fans of Jamaica tried to squeeze their way into an eatery on West 46 Street in New York City. News had spread about the Jamaica Tourist Board’s (JTB) private bobsled watch party taking place there. Earlier threats of stormy weather did not deter travel agents, hotel and travel marketing representatives and diaspora leaders from quickly filling up the venue, some travelling from as far away as Boston and Baltimore. The super-excited throng screamed and cheered frantically whenever images of Jamaica came across the screen. It was of little concern if our team was winning or losing. Nobody cared. The fact is that the Jamaica team was in the race, and our people, led by JTB cheerleaders Victoria Harper, Matthew Blake and Kirk Whyte, were going all out to show robust support for Jamaican tropical athletes competing on Arctic ice.

The escalating hype during the watch party was undoubtedly impressive. But there is a bigger marketing agenda loaded with tourism opportunities for Jamaica that the leadership of the travel industry understands exceedingly well. Over the past few weeks, hundreds of stories on Jamaica’s bobsled team, and by extension, the island, have been carried on major global media platforms. Among them, The New York Times, Washington Post, ESPN, CNN, USA Today, the Toronto Star, Sports Illustrated, BBC TV, NBC, MSNBC, CBS, ABC and Al Jazeera. Collectively, the media value of this amplified visibility for the island is worth billions of dollars, a luxury that Caribbean destinations simply could not afford. So once the Jamaica team got green lights to proceed, both the Jamaica Tourist Board and Sandals Resorts were ready sponsors.

The current team

“Any talk about Jamaica and bobsled automatically triggers a huge interest and wild cheering, with memories of the iconic Disney movie Cool Runnings and this abundant global mystique for the team, this will sooner or later translate to travel to Jamaica,” Donnie Dawson, (JTB) deputy director for the Americas, shared with The Gleaner. “We are always so proud of our athletes and thrilled to support the team,” the deputy director of tourism added.

The current team, with members Shanwayne Stephens, Matthew Wepke, Rolando Reid and Ashley Watson, has once again captured the hearts and imagination of television viewers and sports fans around the world. It was in keeping with this spirit that Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett was happy to partner with the team through sponsorship.

“The games will shine the spotlight brightly upon our athletes”, Bartlett said in a release when the JTB’s sponsorship of US$20,000 was announced several weeks ago. “Sports are an important aspect of tourism, because they bring people and cultures together over a shared enthusiasm,” Bartlett added.

A New York-based media specialist and sports fan, Anthony Turner, agrees. “The Jamaica bobsled team, nicknamed ‘Fire on Ice’, are the media darlings of the world, and not since Usain Bolt won three gold medals at the Olympics in Beijing, in 2008, has the world been so enamoured by a Jamaican athlete or team. The publicity is unprecedented and priceless,” Turner stated in an interview with The Gleaner.


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