Jamaica recently welcomed the leadership of the regional tourism sector to the Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2014, which took place in the purpose built Montego Bay Convention Centre.
Following the successful event, which say hundreds of delegates dissect the latest trends in Caribbean tourism, Breaking Travel News caught up with the island’s director of tourism John Lynch to assess his views.
Breaking Travel News: Can you comment on the significance of hosting Caribbean Travel Marketplace this year?
John Lynch: It is very important for us to host events such as Caribbean Travel Marketplace.
This is the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association’s premier tourism marketing event for the region and the single most important business to business tourism event for the Caribbean in any given year.
It brings together the major players in the industry to foster further growth in this all-important sector.
Jamaica is hosting this event for the fifth time and we are geared to capitalise on this.
While marketers from our sister Caribbean islands will be alongside us selling their products and services, we have the added advantage of the international travel media and the buyers being able to experience what we have to offer first-hand.
BTN: What are the key themes that will be discussed at the event?
JL: The Caribbean is one of the strongest regions for tourism in the world and the key point that this year’s marketplace will address is the need for the whole region to work together and unite in the selling of our islands.
Shows and events like marketplace bring us more together and empower us to achieve that necessary unity.
Furthermore, we need to further develop and strengthen the linkages between tourism and other sectors of our economy.
This need not be a strictly national initiative; I would like to see similar initiatives taking place on a regional level.
There is enormous potential within our region to supply this sector’s collective needs.
Some members of our Caribbean community have greater potential for agricultural productivity; others may be further along the road in manufacturing.
Forging firmer linkages between our productive sectors and the region’s tourism sector can only be of benefit to all of us.
Jamaica will be willing and active participant in such initiative.
BTN: How are visitor figures/occupancy levels in Jamaica?
JL: We ended the calendar year 2013 on a very high note, welcoming for the first time, over two million stopover visitors in any one year and earning an estimated two billion US dollars.
This was achieved through the hard work of all our valuable stakeholders as well as strategic marketing.
Our room stock exceeds 30,000 which has been bolstered by the opening of several newly renovated properties in 2013.
This resulted in the addition of approximately 800 rooms.
Of that number, 238 were new additions with the recent opening of the RIU adults-only RIU Palace in Montego Bay.
We have every reason to believe that this year will be another successful year for the industry, especially in light of the fact that there continues to be positive growth signs in the economies of our traditional markets.
We also started to see growth in arrivals out of the UK last summer after five years of decline.
We are currently running 4.3 per cent above last year’s performance year to date. Building on that there is an expectation that we will do well in that market this year.
BTN: How has your new campaign ‘Get All Right’ been received?
JL: Our new campaign was launched at the end of 2013 and the reception by all our tourism stakeholders has been very positive so far.
Based on the feedback we have received, people are getting the message.
BTN: What are the main developments for Jamaica in 2014?
JL: I am pleased to advise that the north-south leg of the new highway system is well underway and the first phase is scheduled for completion in July of this year.
The entire north-south link will be completed in the first quarter of 2016, representing a major advancement in travel to and around Jamaica.
With a highway link between the south and north coasts of the island, access to Ocho Rios and Port Antonio through the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston will be even more viable.
We are anticipating that our ports in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Falmouth will enjoy record cruise passenger arrivals this year.
Work continues to create the appropriate environment that will encourage our cruise visitors to linger longer and venture further while ashore.
Various product improvement initiatives are underway that touch on the physical environment as well as the experiential.
We expect continued growth in stopover arrivals in response to our thrust into new and emerging markets, which is taking place while we work to build even greater momentum in our traditional markets.
Our efforts to position Jamaica squarely in the aspirations of consumers in new markets have been effective.
Easing of visa restrictions has encouraged a growing demand for travel to our island and has been met by a response from carriers, resulting in new airlift from non-traditional regions.
BTN: What new hotels are in the pipeline in coming months? Which new openings should we expect?
JL: The first Sensatori hotel in the Caribbean outside Mexico, Azul Sensatori Hotel Jamaica, opened on December 20th in Negril, and is only bookable through TUI.
Hyatt will also upgrade the former Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort & Spa and re-open it as Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, with expanded facilities and increased room capacity, in November this year.
Additionally, in Kingston construction of the Marriott Courtyard is underway.
BTN: What new airlift will be added?
JL: Copa, having started with two flights to Jamaica, is now providing four flights per week to Kingston and four to Montego Bay from its hub in Panama City.
We continue to benefit from the upgraded service by Russian carrier, Transaero Airlines, which replaced its Boeing 777 aircraft with a Boeing 747 with capacity of over 500 seats into Montego Bay.
As of last month, we have flights out of the Czech Republic and two flights out of Stockholm, Sweden while Condor operates from both Munich and Frankfurt into Montego Bay.
BTN: What new markets are you targeting? How are you doing this?
JL: Through our partnership with Thomson Airways and its parent company TUI, the first Dreamliner to the region landed in Montego Bay in November 2013. The Platinum ship, ‘Thomson Dream’ will move to its new home port of Montego Bay later this year.
Now on sale, ‘Thomson Dream’ will be the only UK cruise ship based in Montego Bay and will sail from November 2014.
This has opened up new market opportunities, enabling us to reach deeper into Europe and Asia than had been possible before.
BTN: What are the main challenges for the Caribbean in 2014?
JL: The Caribbean is competing with destinations all over the world, which is why we feel that the Caribbean should be more united in promoting the region – we are stronger together than we can ever be as individual countries.
BTN: Are you noticing any travel trends?
JL: We are noticing the growth of health conscious and wellness travellers.
Travellers that are looking to run marathons, spend a week practising yoga, or enjoy a week detoxing.
As such, across the island our hotels, resorts and their wider destinations are increasing the products available that will appeal to these visitors.
This approach is working, and for example Reggae Marathon in December was our biggest yet, with almost 1,000 finishers from outside Jamaica.
BTN: Can you comment on being named Caribbean Leading Destination and Caribbean’s Leading Tourist Board by the World Travel Awards?
JL: Well, Jamaica Tourist Board is delighted to receive these accolades.
These are testament to all the hard work that the tourist board and its partners have put in over the last few years.
For more on visiting the Caribbean paradise of Jamaica head over to the official tourism website.