TORONTO — Like just about every other Caribbean destination this past winter Jamaica had a tough go of it from this market. But the long-time favourite for legions of Canadian travellers is determined to boost its performance here, armed with a solid value proposition and a decades-long reputation for top quality sun vacations, says the Jamaica Tourist Board’s Director of Tourism, Paul Pennicook.
“I have every reason to believe we’ll be seeing increases out of Canada this winter and into next year,” said Pennicook. “There’s a bit of decline in lift to Jamaica out of the West, but having said that, we’re seeing an increase in lift from the East”, with Ontario holding strong as Jamaica’s number one market out of Canada, he added.
After a year of ‘staycations’ and travel budget cost-cutting Canadian vacationers will finally be looking to take a proper trip and “Jamaica will attract its fair share,” said Pennicook. Many early booking bonuses currently in the market expire Oct. 31, he added. “Jamaica is good value and the EBBs are very attractive this year.”
More travellers will be heading to their Jamaican getaways via Kingston, thanks to new highway access across the mountains between Kingston and Ocho Rios. In terms of travel time, “Ocho Rios is now closer to Kingston than Montego Bay,” said Pennicook. “We’re anticipating extremely busy flights from Canada into Montego Bay this winter and agents need to know that, especially if they have clients going into Ocho Rios, Kingston is now an option.”
Both Air Canada and WestJet have flights into Kingston, he added.
Pennicook also addressed the immigration process delays that were causing headaches at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport. Some two dozen additional immigration officers have been hired and kiosk use has improved, he said. “There were some issues last winter,” he acknowledged.
The Jamaica Tourist Board has embarked on an ambitious ‘5 for 5 for 5’ tourism goal, aiming for five million visitors (and tourism earnings worth some US$5 billion) in five years. In 2015 Jamaica welcomed 3.7 million visitors.
While Pennicook is well aware of the importance of Canada and the North American market – the U.S. is the island’s number one source market, and Canada number two – he’s also aware that “you can’t keep going back to the same well.” With that in mind the JTB is developing new markets in Latin America, Asia and Eastern Europe.
Where will all these new visitors stay? Jamaica’s accommodation lineup runs the gamut from villas and B&Bs to, of course, all-inclusives. The time was right for the arrival of “mega resorts” from the Spanish hotel companies, said Pennicook. “Ten years ago, the largest hotel in Jamaica was the Holiday Inn Montego Bay with 500 rooms.”
How things have changed: new properties have arrived from RIU – the Hotel Riu Ocho Rios has 856 rooms – and Grand Palladium with 1,000+ rooms.
New resorts coming to the island this year and next include RIU Reggae in Montego Bay (450 rooms), Royalton Blue Waters (230 rooms), Azul Seven in Negril (150 rooms) and a Royal Decameron (160 rooms).
In total some 1,200 new rooms are coming onstream, said Pennicook. And over the next two to two and a half years, 1,800 new rooms will be built as part of Karisma’s massive new resort project between Ocho Rios and Runaway Bay. Karisma’s $900 million ‘Sugar Cane’ will eventually comprise 5,000 new rooms in a 10-year construction project.
“If we didn’t get those larger resorts and those chains, we would not have grown to the extent that we have,” said Pennicook. In a short period of time the Canadian market has grown from 160,000 to 420,000 visitors per year, he added.