By Anna Gouldman
Jamaica is gearing up for a bumper year as the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) is promoting the destination to new and emerging tourists including adventure travellers and the Chinese market.
New room stock, increased airlift, airport expansions, a new convention centre and co-operation from the private sector have all contributed to the JTB’s bright visitor outlook for 2006, which they predict is set to grow by 10.6%.
According to Paul Pennicook, Director of Tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board, one of the island’s biggest selling points is its diversity and its people. He commented:
“We are a tropical destination with mountains, rivers, culture, music, history, cuisine and a friendly population He added: “These attributes serve to make Jamaica the most diverse destination in the region.”
The island already has an impressive range of accommodation, with 26, 000 rooms in total, varying from villas and apartments to boutique and luxury hotels to all-inclusive resorts. This figure is set to increase by 6, 000 in the next 4 years, predominantly by European hotel groups including Grupo Pinero, RIU and Iberostar. 1, 200 new rooms were added to the island in 2005, including Sandals’ Whitehouse property, which was built on the South Coast.
This increase in hotel rooms should accommodate the visitors expected to arrive in Jamaica for the Cricket World Cup in 2007, for which the island will host both the opening ceremony and the semi-final.
Easy access from both the UK and the US is another pull factor for travellers into Jamaica. All the major US carriers and Air Jamaica currently fly into Jamaica from the US and it was recently announced that low cost carrier, Spirit, is launching new Jamaica routes.
Airlift out of the UK will be further enhanced in May, when Virgin Atlantic launches its new service from Gatwick. (BA and Air Jamaica currently fly from the UK to Jamaica).
To facilitate new airlift, Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport, which is undergoing an expansion, has already seen the completion of its new terminal building. When the refurbishment is completed in 2007, capacity will increase from three million to nine million passengers a year. Kingston airport is also having a makeover and Jamaica’s road network is under construction in a bid improve the infrastructure.
According to Pennicook, the airport developments have made the airport more efficient: “The expansion has made the airport more comfortable with new gates and jet-bridges as well as more restaurants and shops in the airport. Sangster gets 80% of the visitor traffic so to have had the expansion there was obviously the right thing to do.”
The Government have announced a new convention centre is to be built in the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay in the coming months. Pennicook reveals: “It will be a free standing facility so that people can stay in hotels all around but having their meetings in the centre. We will be getting assistance from the Chinese Government to build it.”
Jamaica are soon to get a chunk of the expansive Chinese market. Earlier this year, Jamaica was granted approved destination status for Chinese citizens to visit Jamaica. In preparation, Jamaica have recently opened an embassy in Beijing and I am told they are in the process of translating their website into Chinese, as well as developing their presence on China web.
Pennicook comments: “We anticipate that we will start seeing small amounts of Chinese visitors in 2006 but we anticipate that will grow substantially in the next few years for the simple reason that there are 28 million Chinese making outbound trips in 2004 and this is going to increase in the next few years so we want to be a part of that.”
In yet another exciting development, Jamaica has launched www.uniquejamaica.com, which targets the soft adventure travel market, offering packages and tours which will take travellers off the beaten track. Pennicook comments: “Research shows that a substantial number of people are travelling today for more than a beach - they are travelling for fulfilment - they want history and culture. This is an emerging market, but these travellers are not currently coming to Jamaica”.
I questioned whether people’s perceptions of crime and safety on the island would be an issue for such an offering. Pennicook responded: “The crime is limited to certain areas and the police is aware of it and are on top of it.” He added: “We continue to get a high rate of visitors, with 1. 4 million visitors to Jamaica in 2004. The crime against visitors is almost none and what little crime there is, is petite stuff, like handbag theft. We have very little crime and we want to keep it that way.”
Another recent concern for travellers has been the threat of hurricanes in the Caribbean region. Pennicook’s message to travellers is that they should not be deterred from visiting Jamaica. He commented: “It is difficult to dispel the fears because hurricanes are going to happen and there is not much I can do about it” He added: “We are very prepared so we can handle them if they come but we are at a location where more often than not they miss us and we are going to plan our business as if they will not get us.”