JOVAN Miller has long dreamed of using his skills in virtual reality to move Jamaican tour operators away from their traditional way of wooing tourists. After three months of calling the Ministry of Tourism to pitch his idea, they told him about a new project being launched that would be right up his alley. He’s now one of 11 members of the Tourism Innovation Incubator (TII), getting ready to pitch his big idea before potential investors, partners, and funding agencies.
Miller has already taken one idea to product stage — he’s the creator of Happy HomeWork Club, a platform that uses cartoons and games to help children learn. But he sees the incubator as a way to tap into the networks he will need to really break into the tourism industry with his latest project. He’s also thrilled to be part of a community of 10 other like-minded individuals.
“It is kind of amazing because we are getting people who think creatively on a topic together in a room, and that way we can help flesh out each others’ ideas, find out what’s wrong, how it can be improved. I think that is ultimately one of the best things that have come out of this but specifically for resources, for me personally, it’s the linkages and the potential financial opportunities that the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) and the ministry can provide,” Miller said.
He was providing his view on the best thing about being in the TII.
The 11 members of the incubator, all men and none from rural Jamaica, were selected from 34 individuals who applied for the 10-month programme.
Also among them is 49-year-old Dr Duane Chambers, an established radiologist and owner of Imaging and Intervention Associates who learned about the incubator through an ad on social media. He’s always been a problem solver in the field of radiology, where he said for the last two years he has had the distinction of being the only practising radiologist who does MRIs of the heart. In working with patients from outside of Jamaica, Dr Chambers recognised the gaps that currently exist in the country’s health-care system — and also the potential opportunities.
“I thought I could apply tech to the tourism industry to make health tourism an easier process for people who are trying to get things done,” he told Jamaica Observer’s LetsTravelCaribbean.com.
Dr Chambers wants to see Jamaica become a major player in the field of health tourism, and he’s already launched the vehicle through which he believes it can be done: Caribbean Front Desk. He has pumped about $10 million of his money into the project because he believes in it, but now he needs financing to make it big enough to not only transform Jamaica’s health tourism sector but also bring in enough revenue to fund improvements to the health-care system used by locals.
“I believe that we have the best doctors in the world in Jamaica, as a whole, but we are resource-limited. If we can find a way to bring the foreign exchange into Jamaica, we can elevate the quality of health-care delivery — and that’s something that everybody would love. We can use taxes from health tourism to try to build up the infrastructure of our health system — it’s a win-win for everybody — that’s really the crux of what I’m trying to do,” he said.
Dr Chambers is clear that at the end of the incubator experience he still wants to be very hands-on with Caribbean Front Desk so he’s open to an equity partnership and access to funding from, for example, the Development Bank of Jamaica; there is also funding available through the Tourism Innovation Facility.
Unlike Dr Chambers, however, other innovators may opt to sell their idea and have someone else implement.
For TEF Executive Director Dr Carey Wallace, any route they choose is fine with him. He’s just thrilled to see their new ideas come to life.
Wallace, one of the decision-makers for the incubator, is hoping the next cohort will include females and participants from rural Jamaica. He wants to see the country dominate when it comes to innovations within the tourism sector.
“I just want, more than anything else, to let Jamaicans know that there is now this strong push and strong support for them — with a brilliant idea — to have an opportunity to go through the incubator. Our vision is that we create several billionaires from Jamaica out of this programme,” he said.
Looking ahead, he wants to see the incubator accommodate even more than the 25 participants that was the goal for the inaugural cohort. It is evolving as participants grow.
“We’re learning everyday from how it’s developing. And if we see where it’s extremely successful, and we see where the demand is for us expanding, we are flexible enough to look at it positively to accommodate more success. That’s what we want more than anything else,” said Wallace.