This story originally ran in the Oct. 10, 2019 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Growth from the Canadian market to that long-time favourite Caribbean destination, Jamaica, is on the plus side year-to-date and that has the Jamaica Tourist Board feeling buoyant as the calendar turns to winter 2019/20.
The uptick is 1% from January to September 2019 but it’s a positive direction nonetheless as the JTB continues to get out in front of updates about extensions to Jamaica’s state of emergency measures in parishes including St. James, home to Montego Bay.
The SOEs, first announced in 2018, are an important tool in Jamaica’s arsenal for fighting crime, freeing up crucial funding. The SOEs have been extended to Oct. 28.
Donovan White, Director of Tourism for the JTB, says the SOEs “continue to be part of the overall strategy, to enhance feelings of assurance for visitors, and just as importantly, to keep residents safe.”
Travellers researching Jamaica online might stumble across the SOE notifications, but agents and tour operators in this market know that it’s business as usual for Jamaica, always a top pick for Canadian vacationers.
In a sign of confidence from the airlines – especially impressive given the ongoing 737 Max groundings – there are more than 21,000 additional seats to Jamaica from Canadian gateways for winter 2019/20, says White.
With all those extra seats, agents should advise clients to book their preferred resorts early, he added.
In the meantime Jamaica has an unprecedented number of new resorts on the way, including developments from Oceans by H10, Princess Hotels, Karisma and Hard Rock.
The adults-only Oceans by H10 new-build is on schedule, with some 520 rooms set to be delivered in December 2019. The resort company has committed to delivering another 480 rooms by May 2020. “They have really stepped up on delivering on their promises,” says White, who together with the JTB’s Regional Director, Canada, Angella Bennett, got a hard-hat tour of the property last month. “It looks fantastic,” says White. The entire development is valued at US$250 million.
Princess Hotels and Resorts will construct 2,000 new rooms in Negril, at a cost of $500 million. White has an update for that development as well, noting that the project has yet to break ground but preparatory work is well underway.
Meanwhile Karisma is about to start work on its 750-room resort, and a new Hard Rock is coming to Montego Bay, with 1,250 rooms including a casino. Hard Rock will begin building in early 2020, says White.
In other resort news, Riu Ocho Rios in Jamaica, available exclusively with Sunwing, has debuted a new water park and accommodation options as part of its most recent renovations.
In addition to the ‘Splash Water World’ park, considered a first for the resort chain in Jamaica, the resort now boasts a revamped pool area that comprises five pools, two swim-up bars and a DJ booth by the beach area. There’s also a new indoor playground at the RiuLand kids club, complete with a maze and ball pit, a new teens hangout called Riu4U, and a new RiuFit facility.
Plus, newly-built family rooms bring the total number of accommodation options to 901 rooms. All existing guestrooms have been refreshed with modern décor, plus WiFi is available in all rooms.
White says Riu Montego Bay will close temporarily next summer, from April to August 2020, for the same refit.
Other Jamaican hotels in the news include the newly opened AC Marriott in Kingston, a development in partnership with Sandals Resorts. The hotel “is doing extremely well,” says White.
And recently the biggest resort news is that Planet Hollywood is coming to Jamaica. Sunwing Travel Group, as master hotel franchisor to the Planet Hollywood brand in a deal announced in 2018, already has Planet Hollywood Costa Rica and, in March 2020, Planet Hollywood Cancun will open. The new Planet Hollywood in Jamaica, with 600+ rooms, will break ground in 2020.
“Additional room stock remains a pillar in ensuring Jamaica has new and exciting offerings to attract more visitors to our shores. This is part of our strategic planning to keep Jamaica top of mind and boost our arrivals and earnings,” said Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, in making the Planet Hollywood announcement.
Always a leader in the weddings and honeymoons markets, especially with so many Sandals and Beaches Resorts on the island, Jamaica is looking to shore up its presence in these markets.
Other Caribbean islands have come on strong with destination wedding and honeymoon offers in the past several years and Jamaica is determined to guard and grow its share with these lucrative markets.
“We have seen a steady return for groups which is extremely positive for us,” says White. “The Canadian market has been very buoyant with weddings and honeymoons. We would like to position ourselves in front of those markets here in Canada. We have the scenery, we have the ambiance, we have the resorts. Everything that couples need to create that backdrop for romance.”