Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
This story originally ran in the January 31st, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Now that Philip Rose has packed away his toque and taken up residence in sunny Fort Lauderdale as the Jamaica Tourist Board’s new Regional Director of Tourism, Northeast USA, the trade is wondering who will succeed him as the JTB’s new Regional Director for Canada.
Dan Hamilton, the JTB’s District Sales Manager, says the target timeline for announcing the new Regional Director for Canada is early spring and specifically by April 1.
For now Hamilton is keeping things under control by doing double duty as the JTB’s Acting Regional Director – Canada.
Year over year Canadian arrivals to Jamaica came in just less than flat for 2018, making it almost equal to record-breaking 2017, when Jamaica welcomed 405,000 Canadian travellers. Worldwide arrivals to Jamaica topped 4.3 million.
Looking back on 2018, the JTB’s Director of Tourism, Donovan White told Travelweek that arrivals remained strong despite a few challenges, not least of which was public perception following the State of Public Emergency (SOE) declaration for St. James Parish, including popular Montego Bay.
The SOE freed up extra funds to get more police into the area in response to escalating crime and was seen as a positive and proactive move by the industry, however consumer media coverage prompted more than a few calls to the JTB from concerned travellers.
Steady support from Jamaica’s tour operator partners, and a calm, level-headed response to the situation from the JTB itself, kept visitor numbers on an even keel.
Back in October Jamaica had announced it was extending the SOE for St. James Parish until Jan. 31.
“There’s a level of confidence for Canadians travellers with what to expect from Jamaica,” says White. “Jamaica is a tried and tested destination for Canadians.”
Not only does Canada punch above its weight when it comes to visitor arrivals to Jamaica, it also has a return rate of about 42%.
The priority now, says White, is to keep the experience fresh by emphasizing the island’s attractions, food, entertainment and culture. “Jamaica has experiences you can’t have anywhere else, from Chukka (with its long list of excursion options) to river rafting down the Martha Brae.”
And what about Jamaica’s hotels? As reported on Jan. 25, Both H10 Hotels and Princess Hotels & Resorts are coming to Jamaica, with a combined 3,000 new rooms set to open on the Caribbean island by 2021.
Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett made the announcement at FITUR in Spain in late January. The total investment from the two hotel companies is worth US$750 million.
H10 Hotels will construct 1,000 new rooms in Trelawny at a value of approximately US$250 million. H10 currently has more than 55 hotels in 18 destinations.
Princess Hotels and Resorts, meanwhile, will construct 2,000 new rooms in Hanover, at a cost of US$500 million.
The value of this latest investment from H10 and Princess “cannot be overstated as it will transform our tourism product and allow for heavier marketing of the destination,” said Bartlett.
“More rooms mean more visitors and more visitors mean more foreign exchange earnings and ultimately more economic growth, which is in line with our 5x5x5 growth strategy.”
Jamaica has made no secret of its goal to significantly boost its room stock.
Currently Jamaica has about 32,000 rooms. As part of the Ministry’s 5x5x5 growth strategy, Jamaica is looking for 5 million visitors and $5 billion in revenues over 5 years. Jamaica also wants 15,000 additional rooms by 2022.
The H10 and Princess mega projects “are ready to go”, adds Bartlett. “Funding is in place, lands have been purchased and development ready to begin following the requisite approvals being granted.”
H10 will officially break ground on Feb. 6 and Princess Hotels will follow suit by mid-February.
Other big-name resorts already opened or in the pipeline as part of Jamaica’s room stock surge are Excellence Oyster Bay and the new S Hotel Jamaica, now open on the site of the former Breezes Montego Bay.
Meanwhile Sandals Resorts – practically synonymous with Jamaica and its stellar tourism product – is working on retrofits and refurbishments of its many properties on the island. Sandals Resorts International’s partnership with Marriott International to manage a new 220-room AC Hotels by Marriott property in Jamaica’s capital is moving ahead, with construction on the $50 million AC Kingston well underway. The hotel is currently eyeing a summer 2019 launch.
Other new resort projects include a Hard Rock Montego Bay and a 5,000-room commitment from Karisma. RIU continues to bolster its Jamaica resort lineup, and Playa Resorts is now one of Jamaica’s largest resort owners thanks to its 2018 agreement with Jamaica’s Sagicor Group.
Jamaica will need a lot of new rooms if it’s going to keep up with demand, and all the extra lift it’s getting. For this 2018-19 winter season Jamaica has more than 40,000 new seats out of Canadian gateways.
“We believe we have to expand,” says White. “We want to expand the product and also diversify the product. And we want to achieve our objective of 50,000 rooms in the next few years.”
Jamaica recently welcomed the world as host of the 2019 Caribbean Travel Marketplace, along with the Caribbean Hotel Tourism Association (CHTA) in collaboration with co-hosts the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association, the Jamaica Tourist Board and the Jamaica Ministry of Tourism. The event brought 576 supplier delegates from 147 companies to Montego Bay and also saw the official launch of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre. The centre is designed to help vulnerable states across the world to recover quickly from natural disasters.