As Jamaica plays host to Caribbean Marketplace 2011, the first time it has held the region’s premier travel trade event since 2005, BTN takes a look at the tourism credentials of an island blessed with natural beauty and some of the world’s most exquisite hotels.
Travel and tourism is one of Jamaica’s most crucial industries, contributing around $4 billion to the national economy, or a fifth of GDP.
It is also one of the oldest and most developed in the Caribbean. Mainstream tourism began here in the 1890s, when the United Fruit Company, seeking to use the excess capacity of its ships, encouraged cruises to Jamaica, and tourist hotels were constructed on the island.
But the industry didn’t really take until after World War II, when accelerated depreciation allowances for hospitality investment helped to triple the number of hotels between 1945 and 1970.
After a boom lasting over 20 years, the travel and tourism economy slumped in the mid-1970s for a variety of reasons, ranging from radical domestic policies to negative press coverage abroad. However in the 1980s Jamaica returned to form on the weakness of the US dollar, to which the Jamaican dollar was pegged, coupled with its growing reputation as a safe, family destination.
(Sandals Ochos Rios)
The Sandals Phenomenon
The 1980s also saw the arrival of a young Jamaican entrepreneur who would go on to change the face of Caribbean travel and tourism. In 1981, Gordon “Butch” Stewart, the maverick owner of an air-conditioning business, bought his first hotel, a run-down property in Montego Bay, in 1981, despite having no hospitality experience. The rooms got dramatic facelifts, and Stewart decided to rent them to couples only. Sandals Montego Bay opened for business.
He said: “We lost our shirt for one and a half years because we didn’t know what we were doing. We slowly got the hang of it. Some people in the company were saying, ‘Let’s get out of this, it’s losing a lot of money.’ But hotels do - we expected that. And then it started to turn.”
Sandals now boasts 13 couples-only Sandals resorts across the Caribbean, as well as four Beaches resorts, aimed at families.
(A clean sweep - Butch Stewart of Sandals and the cream Jamaica’s tourism industry - including John Lynch, Director and Chairman, Jamaica Tourist Board - celebrate winning a host of honours at the World Travel Awards. Also pictured Miss World)
Jamaica abounds in scenic beauty. There are white sand beaches and rivers, large expanses of plains and mountains where the flora and fauna provide an attractive kaleidoscope of island life. For those who are inspired by nature, the island offers 252 species of birds, 200 native species of orchids, 500 species of true ferns and about 50 species of coral.
Jamaica has plantation tours and great colonial houses, dolphin parks and nature reserves, museums, galleries and soft adventure tours. There are also numerous craft markets and duty-free stores for goods, both bargain and luxury.
(James Bond beach)
Jamaica cruise industry is undergoing a renaissance, reflected in the island picking up “World’s Leading Cruise Destination” at 2010 World Travel Awards.
State-of-art passenger terminals are found in Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Port Antonio and Kingston. Next month sees the opening of the highly-anticipated $220 million facility in historic Falmouth.
The Reggae Island
There is a wide variety of festivals and entertainment events year round including community and international festivals. Jamaica’s native music – reggae – is celebrated in many festivals including Reggae Sumfest and Reggae Sunsplash, while the annual Festival of Arts highlights the island’s heritage in music, dance, drama, traditional folk forms and drama. Community festivals are constantly being added to the island’s calendar of events.
To coincide with the opening of Montego Bay Convention Centre, City Mobi has launched its new mobile guide to all the best entertainment and activities to do in the area. MontegoBay.Mobi
is the latest in this illustrious line up of mobile guides, with over 800 cities in 200 countries listed.
Caribbean Marketplace 2011, 16-18 January, Montego Bay Convention Centre, Montego Bay, Jamaica