TORONTO — March 2022 ended on a high note for the Jamaica Tourist Board.
On March 31, the JTB ended its fiscal year with 1.9 million arrivals – which was 800,000 more than anticipated. “If there was a positive sign of recovery that would be it,” explained Donovan White, Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board, during a recent interview with Travelweek.
“We’re pacing well ahead of where we were at this time in 2019 right now,” he added.
By April 16, 2022, Jamaica had removed all protocols relating to COVID-19: there’s no entry test required, no travel authorization needed, and no limit on capacity at hotels or mask mandates.
“We do recommend, as we’re still in a pandemic, to be cautious and encourage visitors if you’re in a crowded place, to put on a mask,” said White.
Travel advisors have been key to the Jamaica Tourist Board’s marketing strategy, detailed White, who described how the JTB has stayed engaged with advisors during the past two years, sending information, updates and regular newsletters highlighting what’s new on island and highlights of the destination.
“We’re extremely grateful (to travel agents) as they’re demonstrating their confidence in us by driving the destination. This will allow the Canadian market to get back within 80-85% of where we were in 2019 by next winter, which is our forecast,” said White.
His advice for travel advisors, based on the JTB’s research from travellers, is to ask clients the right questions. “People want the full experience: not just a great hotel room, pool or lots of drinks at the bar. If agents are accessing our webinars or training sessions, they’ll see what we’re offering makes Jamaica the only choice in the Caribbean.”
“We’re going to push the envelope as far as we can take it, to satisfy the curiosity of the traveller today.”
When asked about the overall tourism market, White was cautious but optimistic, stating that if current trends continue, Jamaica will hit pre-pandemic numbers at about the third quarter of 2023, then begin to grow again.
“When the pandemic hit, we were poised to have our first double digit growth year in a long time,” said White. “We believe by the time we get to September 2023, we’ll be back to genuine growth.”
There’s a lot of pent-up demand from the travelling public, said White, with people wanting to travel to places they’ve never been. “We’re excited about what that represents for us as a destination,” he said, adding that “we also want to allow people who have been here to have a vacation getaway that they’ve dreamed up or want to happen again.”
Celebrating its 60th anniversary of independence in 2022, Jamaica has curated luxurious experiences with their natural surroundings, attractions and especially culture: food, rum and music. “We provide an outsized opportunity for an experience you can’t have anywhere else in the region. I think the traveller today is interested in more than just being on the beach. They’re interested in being out and about and getting to know their surroundings and the people.”
“YOU CAN FLY 3 HOURS AND YOU’RE ON THE BEACH IN MONTEGO BAY”
Proximity is a differentiator, but White sees travellers pondering “‘what’s my best option for having my best experience?’”
He believes it comes down to appealing to the tastes and preferences of the visitor, to make them feel they’re going somewhere safe, and where they’ll have a curated experience that makes them feel like they’ve gotten value for their money.
And despite the pandemic, there’s a lot that’s new and in progress on the island of Jamaica.
Construction has begun on the new 2,000-room Princess Jamaica Resort in Hanover, while RIU Hotels is busy building its seventh property on island, the 800-room RIU Palace Hotel Aquarelle, in Falmouth, 35 minutes from Montego Bay International Airport.
Sandals Resorts meanwhile acquired two older properties during the pandemic. The former Jewels Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa and Jewels Runaway Bay Beach Resort & Waterpark will both will become Sandals hotels and will have 1,500 new rooms between both properties.
In downtown Kingston, Rok Hotel Kingston, Tapestry Collection by Hilton will bring 160 rooms to the capital, while the Hard Rock Hotel Rose Hall is on track and has broken ground in Montego Bay, adding 1,500 more rooms to the offerings in this area.
White stated there are other companies currently in search of locations on island, including AMR Collection. Another option to recommend to clients are villas, providing two to five bedrooms with a butler, chef and housekeeper.
JAMAICA’S HIDDEN GEM: ST. THOMAS
In the next five to 10 years, the newest destination on island to be developed will be St. Thomas, located on the eastern coast of the country. Jamaica is currently constructing several new highways, including one that will go through St. Thomas.
The current plan will be a revitalization of the whole area, creating hotels, attractions, parks and restaurants as well as residential housing, agriculture and industrial development. There are several natural assets in St. Thomas, explained White, like hot springs, untouched beaches hidden behind cane fields and its location at the foot of the Blue Mountain.
The development of St. Thomas is just one of many reasons the JTB is looking forward to the next five to 10 years in Jamaica, said White. “We’re excited about it because it gives us the opportunity to create so much diversity and opportunity with an area rich in ecology, minerals, farms and foliage.”