Jamaica’s tourism industry recorded several landmark achievements during 2013, in terms of earnings, visitor arrivals, new markets tapped, and linkages and partnerships forged with new cruise and airlines, making the year one of the most successful in recent times.
The island reached an historic milestone when it welcomed its 2 millionth stopover visitor in December, surpassing the 1.986 million arrivals recorded in 2012. This represents more than a 0.7 per cent increase in arrivals for the year. Figures on the industry’s overall performance during 2013, indicate that Jamaica is on course to record close to US$2 billion in earnings this year.
These increases are, to a great extent, attributable to significant groundwork undertaken by the Ministry and its agency, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), in tapping into new markets and strengthening traditional ones.
Key to new markets established, has been links forged with new airlines. Significant among these undertaken in 2013 was a partnership with Russian airline – Air Transaero. This collaboration currently affords Jamaica access to markets in some 40 central and eastern European countries, covering 40 routes. These include: Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine. This is currently being facilitated through connecting service from hubs in the Russian capital, Moscow, and adjoining cities St. Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
Diversification of the market base also saw partnerships being forged with Condor Airlines to provide service to Jamaica out of Munich, Germany, and Thomas Cook, out of Stockholm, Sweden.
Jamaica’s access to the United Kingdom (UK) market was further strengthened with the addition of British firm, Thomas Airways’ 787 Dreamliner commercial aircraft to the island’s in-flight roster. Thus was complemented by increased flights between the UK and the island by Virgin Atlantic Airlines.
The North American market was also strengthened with the addition of several new airlines serving emerging and established destinations. These include: Air Canada’s new leisure carrier, Rouge, which operates flights out of Toronto; and Air Trans from Chicago, Illinois; and Frontier Airlines, from Denver, Colorado, in the United States.
Significant headway was also made in strengthening flight connections with the Latin American market through direct airlift arrangements brokered with Panama’s Copa Airlines. This facilitated service out of countries such as Colombia and Venezuela through the airline’s hub in Panama City.
Government’s relaxation of visa requirement for entry into Jamaica for nationals in a number of the new markets also contributed significantly to the number of arrivals recorded out of those regions. Countries benefitting included: Colombia, Venezuela, and Panama, as well as Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
Cruise ship arrivals were topped by United States-based Disney Cruise Lines vessel, the Disney Wonder’s voyage to Jamaica. The 2,700-passenger vessel made its maiden port of call, one of five scheduled for 2013, at the Falmouth Port in Trelawny in October. Tourism and Entertainment Minister, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, who headed the officials on hand to welcome the vessel, described its visit to the island as “a tremendous endorsement of Jamaica”.
The industry recorded nearly $20 billion worth of investments during the course of the year, which brought the market new globally renowned brands such as the Hyatt, Melia, Royalton, and Karima. These are expected to further contribute to diversifying the sector’s character.
The total number of hotel rooms and suites islandwide increased with the opening of the 225-room Jewel Paradise Cove Resort and Spa in Runaway Bay, St. Ann, which is owned and operated by Sagicor Life Jamaica Limited. The establishment, formerly Hedonism III, was acquired by Sagicor, which effected a US$5 million facelift of the property.
An additional 130 rooms are expected to come on stream by 2015 when the Marriott Courtyard Business Hotel, currently under construction in New Kingston, is slated to be completed.
The 18-month development, which commenced in July, is being jointly undertaken by Pan Jamaican Investment Trust (Pan-Jam), Costa Rica-based Caribe Hospitality, and Victor Mouttet Limited out of Trinidad and Tobago, which together form Caribe Hospitality Jamaica Limited, at a cost of $2 billion (US$22 million).
Upon completion, the Marriott Courtyard Business Hotel is expected to provide employment for approximately 430 Jamaicans.
Some 400 jobs are expected to be generated over the long-term under an agreement between the National Insurance Fund (NIF) and Europe’s third largest hotel chain, Melia Hotels International (MHI), headquartered in Spain, for the management of the 226-room Braco Hotel in Trelawny over the next 15 years.
The agreement was reached following negotiations involving Dr. McNeill; Minister of Labour and Social Security, under whose portfolio the NIF falls, Hon. Derrick Kellier; and MHI Chairman, Gabriel Escarrer Julia.
Melia Hotels International is the 12th largest hotel chain in the world, with more than 350 properties in 35 countries.
Meanwhile, Dr. McNeill has said that Jamaica is on course for a strong 2013/14 winter season based on bookings for the period which he assures, are “pacing well ahead of last year.”
This, he said, against the background industry having close to 2,000 hotel rooms out of commission consequent on several factors. These include fire damage sustained by the Wyndham Kingston Hotel earlier this year, which forced the establishment’s temporary closure.
Despite these, he said, visitor arrivals were up 2.8 per cent for the summer, showing a reversal in the losses experienced at the start of the year.
Dr. McNeill said the complement of rooms is expected to be further boosted with the addition of some 350 refurbished rooms at the Royalton White Sands property in Trelawny, and the opening of the 238-room RIU Palace resort in St. James.
The resort town of Ocho Rios is set for major transformation with the phased implementation of an enhancement project, valued at $400 million.
Phase one of the project, which will see work being undertaken on the Turtle River Road and Ocho Rios Cruise Terminal, is already underway and is expected to last until October 2014.
Minister McNeill informed that the scope of work will include the full upgrading of the cruise ship terminal and the parking area, where kiosks will be erected to accommodate rotating craft vendors. It will also include major reconstruction of the Turtle River Road, between the pier and Main Street.
“We will be upgrading the pier, the buildings, and the parking within the area. We will be putting up shops, so that we are closer to what we have at Falmouth (in Trelawny) – similar types of design,” he outlined.
The Jamaica Constabulary Force’s (JCF) crime fighting efforts in the island’s resort areas spanning some five parishes was boosted after the organisation received additional vehicles, financed by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), to boost its mobile capacity.
An initial 15 Toyota Corolla motor cars were procured at a cost of $28.2 million for deployment to Trelawny, St. James, Hanover, Westmoreland and St. Mary.
The TEF subsequently provided an additional $91 million to further bolster crime fighting efforts in Negril Montego Bay, Falmouth, and Ocho Rios.
Dr. McNeill informed that $45 million of the sum was earmarked to acquire additional motor vehicles, with another $40 million to go to the marine police to effect improvements to the division’s outposts in the designated areas.
The remaining $6 million was earmarked for extensive repairs of marine police boats to ensure the division’s vessels at all harbours and ports across the region, are operational.
In an effort to bridge the language difference between non-English speaking guests and the sector’s employees, thereby boosting service provisions, the Ministry, through the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo), has embarked on a Language Skills Training Programme for key industry stakeholders.
Financed by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) at a cost of approximately $3 million, the initiative targets the training of some 300 frontline tourism workers in conversational Russian and Spanish.
The beneficiaries include: immigration and customs officers, red cap porters, taxi operators, craft vendors, and workers attached to hotels and attractions, among others.
The programme seeks to equip them with basic language skills thus enabling them to effectively engage visitors in brief conversation at points of entry to the island and other customer contact areas.
The initiative is currently underway in Negril and Montego Bay and will span 12-weeks, with each participant receiving two classes of two hours per week.
Jamaica capped off a fine year by copping two World Tourism Organization (WTO) World Travel Awards. The island was adjudged the Caribbean’s Leading Destination, with the JTB picking up the awards for being deemed the Caribbean’s Leading Tourist Board.