Typically when an article mentions Jamaica, it’s part of a list of nice places to visit in the Caribbean, a port of call for a cruise ship or maybe part of a profile on Reggae music. Jamaica is rarely mentioned as a good place to do business. But one entrepreneur is trying to change that. His name is Kirk-Anthony Hamilton, and in 2015 he was recognized by President Obama and the White House as one of 75 emerging global entrepreneurs — and the only one to be recognized from the Caribbean. He has since taken his message to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, as one of 50-Under-30 leaders from the Global Shapers Community — and also to The World Bank and US Embassy in Jamaica.
What does Kirk-Anthony Hamilton want the world to know? It’s simple, he wants the world to know that there are serious business opportunities in Jamaica. He founded the Destination Experience, a 3-day event held in Montego Bay, to bring CEOs, investors and entrepreneurs from around the world to meet their Jamaican counterparts — and to let them know that Jamaica is increasingly a good place to do business. For example, did you know that Jamaica’s stock exchange was the #1 performing stock exchange in the world in 2015? Or that Fitch Ratings recently upgraded Jamaica’s long-term foreign and local currency issue ratings from B- to B? That Jamaica has passed 10 International Monetary Fund performance reviews in a row and recently rose 5 spots on Forbes’s list of Best Countries To Do Business? It’s all true.
But there are still hurdles to overcome. “We have an image problem — some people think the area is more dangerous than it is. Especially in the tourist areas,” says Kirk. “So we have a problem attracting the right level of investment based on the perception of the island rather than the opportunities that actually exist here.” I recently spoke with Kirk to learn more about Jamaica, the Destination Experience and his efforts to bring more business to the country. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:
What Is The Destination Experience And How Did It Get Started?
“The Destination Experience is essentially a business catalyst aimed at attracting potential investors, CEOs and directors of companies to meet their local counterparts in Jamaica and accelerate partnerships,” says Kirk. “It got started in 2014 after I left a private investment firm where I was a co-founder and partner, and decided to focus on what I knew how to do best which is to build relationships and put people together.”
“I hosted a Global Party here in 2011 when I was 25 years old. So that gave me some level of visibility as a person who was very focused on global networks,” says Kirk. The “Global Party” was one of 80 parties hosted in 73 different cities around the world in September of 2011. The goal was to connect 100,000 wealth builders and influencers together to network and raise money for charity. “So I put Destination Experience together after developing a reputation in Jamaica for having some level of global connectivity. I sold my sister, Michele-Anne on the vision and she continues to work with me as my co-curator.”
What Are Some Of The Biggest Successes You’ve Seen So Far?
As already stated, Kirk was personally recognized by the White House, but that’s not all. Says Kirk, “The Destination Experience has also been recognized by The White House and President Obama as an innovative platform for the promotion of entrepreneurship and a unique business catalyst. That’s an accolade that probably 95% of conferences can’t speak to.”
Kirk also considers the January 2016 Destination Experience a success based on the guest list: “There were some great people in attendance, and that speaks to what we’re trying to achieve. It definitely was very novel for Jamaica, it’s not something that you see every day.”
Guests included: Wes Hall, the CEO of Kingsdale Shareholder Services and one of the 50 most powerful people in business in Canada. Rohan Marley, the Founder and Chairman of Marley Coffee. V Bozeman, an American singer best known for the show Empire. Real estate barons, Paula and Mark Kerr-Jarrett, who are leading an investment of $500 million to transform Montego Bay. Kaci Fennell, 2014’s Miss Jamaica Universe. Tom Desanto, the highest grossing movie producer in history (Transformers, X-Men, etc.). Prince Michael of Kent, a first cousin to the Queen of England. Entrepreneur Chris Reckord. Kelly Tomblin, an American President of the island’s electricity supplier Jamaica Public Service. Stephen Facey, Chairman of Pan Jam a large real estate and private equity firm, James Goren, an Italian real estate and securities investor with a global presence. Media maven Novia McDonald-Whyte and many more.’
“We’ve also seen a number of business deals come out of the Destination Experience,” says Kirk. “Most recently we seeded 100 million investment in the Jamaican film industry. That project is still underway, but it originated through the Destination Experience. So we’re very proud of it. And we were able to showcase some of the offerings that the island has. Jamaica doesn’t always fit into this luxury space that some of the other Caribbean islands have managed to define themselves as. So it’s always good to highlight some of the luxury resorts that we have here. We believe they deserve some level of recognition, and we were successful in putting that out there.”
What Do You See For The Future Of The Destination Experience?
“I believe the Destination Experience will continue to grow in terms of local and international participation,” says Kirk. “We also see relevance for this concept in other Caribbean territories. Names that come to mind include Barbados, the Cayman Islands and possibly the Bahamas. So it’s about scaling to other territories in the region that have a similar context to Jamaica in terms of where the Destination Experience can prove valuable. We’re also launching a new brand catering to the global tech community at TechBeach.net.”
Overall, Kirk’s goal with the Destination experience is to build a global ecosystem for business within the Caribbean. He wants to connect a community of business-minded individuals just like you have in any other major metropolitan city like New York or London. “We want to imagine a future where people come to the islands themselves to do business,” says Kirk, “and it’s not always about us trying to find that one guy in London that we have to travel 8 hours to meet. And instead, some of these people are also coming here to meet us — motivated by our success stories, and a thriving economy filled with opportunities and great local partners..”
And What Do You See For The Future Of Jamaica?
“I am extremely bullish, hopeful and positive,” says Kirk. “We just had a change in government and the party that won ran on a message of ‘Poverty to Prosperity.’ That’s very different for Jamaica, and not a message that you typically hear. And with the outgoing government having been successful at passing a significant number of International Monetary Fund tests, I’m very hopeful. That, combined with all the other accolades, and you really have to be proud. Hopefully, what will emerge is the Jamaica that just about every Jamaican person has always imagined or figured is possible. We are a globally recognized name, and there is this underlying belief that something better has to be out there for this island. And I believe that it is coming.”
The next Destination Experience is set to take place in January 2017, and future details will be released at MyDestinationExperience.com.
Garrett Gunderson is the founder and Chief Wealth Architect of WealthFactory.com, and a financial advocate for entrepreneurs.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.