With Jamaica firmly in the spotlight following the Olympic legacy left by the world’s fastest man Usain Bolt, and the excitement of the Jamaica 50 celebrations, the Jamaica Tourist Board have some exciting plans in store to ensure the destination maintains its momentum.
Hon Wykeham McNeill, tourism minister, sits down with Breaking Travel News to discuss new tourism developments that are taking place on island as well as his priorities for the next few months and the importance of online marketing.
Breaking Travel News: It has been less than a year since you were appointed as tourism minister for Jamaica. How has it been for you?
Hon Wykeham McNeill: Busy, exciting; it’s been good. We are really blessed with our tourism. It’s a tremendously strong team. We have different agencies, some in charge of marketing Jamaica and others in charge of product development. Our Chairman, director and executive directors are very experienced and competent. So it really helps when you have a strong team helping you. Right through the tourist board in Jamaica we have an extremely strong team, which makes my work, frankly very easy.
BTN: How have international visitor figures been so far this year?
WM: We have our stopover arrivals and cruise ship arrivals. Last year we had combined just over 3 million visitors which is wonderful for a country with less than 3 million.
We have had very strong growth in our cruise ship with close to a 30% increase of arrivals and it was 39% for the for the first six months of the year, largely due to the fact that we opened a new port in Falmouth. In our stopover arrivals we have had positive growth every single year, even in the last few years with the difficult times, we’ve had increased growth every year. This year we started the winter season with a reasonable growth of about 3%.
But the last few months have picked up tremendously, probably largely due to the Jamaica 50 celebrations and people coming to Jamaica to be in Jamaica at that time. I really hope it continues for the rest of the year and next year.
BTN: What new hotel groups can we expect to see opening up in Jamaica in coming months?
WM: There’s a lot of interest in room development, we expect to see some new hotels coming to Jamaica. This year we expect a Courtyard Marriot to break ground in Kingston. We have some other properties that are there - The Fiesta Group are going to be expanding their hotel by 850 rooms.
The Riu is opening a Riu Palace in Montego Bay and the Sunwing Group have just taken over a property in Trilawny which they will re-brand, refurbish the 250 rooms and they are hoping to expand.
In all we are looking at close to 2000 rooms that are going to be under construction over the next two years so it’s looking very promising. Some will certainly be opened in the next two years. Hopefully they should be open for the winter season next year.
BTN: Caribbean Airlines have been talking about a new Gatwick route. Is that progressing
WM: We have heard things from Air Jamaica and we are still waiting to hear what will come of it. Air Jamaica, operated by Caribbean Airlines carries a large amount of visitors from Jamaica and it is an important partner. But certainly this year we will see an increase in our airlift from the US and the UK.
BTN: Which carriers should we expect to see adding new services to Jamaica this year?
Virgin are putting on an extra flight to Montego Bay. TUI are adding additional capacity for the winter and British Airways are adding an extra flight to Kingston and they are adding extra services.
BTN: Having been appointed as minister at such a busy time with the Olympics 2012 and Jamaica 50, now what are your key priorities looking ahead?
WM: The main priorities are continuing marketing and airlift support and building up and diversifying our product to while trying to extend the economic impact of tourism into the lives of every Jamaican.
We are constantly looking at what we are doing to see if we could do it better. The tourist board is looking at our ‘Once You Go You Know’ campaign to see if we should upgrade it. Certainly there is a constant review of our airlift. Being an island we have to ensure that we are getting people to Jamaica as a priority.
But another area is our product development. We have so much to offer and so much more to offer. We are looking at product in terms of how we can bring in our cultural heritage. It’s a country that has Port Royal, Seville Heritage Park, so much to offer. We want to do more advertising and product development that centres on our athletes too so that people can come to Jamaica and see the history of our sporting prowess and work out for themselves why our athletes are so successful.
The same goes for our entertainment. There was a great discussion I had the other day which was really very interesting. Someone asked me who is greater, who has had a greater impact on the world; Usain Bolt or Bob Marley.
Here you had a man who has the song of the century and was up against Elvis Presley and the Beatles. He died in 1982, thirty years ago and yet he lives on in such a strong way. Now Usain Bolt has come and captured the world now. It is just so great that Jamaica was given Bolt and we have to showcase him.
BTN: To what extent is online marketing a priority?
WM: Online marketing is really important. One of the things we recognise is the growing impact of online marketing in the tourism industry. So we are looking at new social media, such as Facebook and Twitter.
One of the things we are trying to do for our website is trying to link that in with the work that we do with our advertising campaign together. We are bringing everything together now.
We also recognise that there is a growth in people who book online vacations, but what is equally important is that people who may book a holiday online are still going online to look up the destination after. So that is why websites are taking on an even greater significance.
Click here to read part one of this exclusive interview with Hon Wykeham McNeill, which looks at Jamaica’s sporting achievements.
Jamaica is considered the World’s Leading Honeymoon Destination by the World Travel Awards.
Take a look at the official website for more information.