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Tourism climbs to new record, peak season off to good start

Published:Friday | February 19, 2016 | 12:00 AMCamilo Thame

Jamaica saw a record 3.7 million tourists visit the island last year.

Total visitors to the island grew by 5.3 per cent over the year before as stopover arrivals increased by 2.1 per cent to 2.1 million travellers and cruise arrivals rose by 10.2 per cent to 1.6 million passengers, according to Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) statistics.

Supporting data from MBJ Airports, which operate Sangster International Airport in Jamaica's tourism hub of Montego Bay, also suggest that the 2016 winter tourism season had a good start.

In January, passenger traffic at the airport increased by 5.5 per cent year-on-year.

"This airport has benefited from an improvement in occupancy, driven by Southwest, Spirit and JetBlue continuing to grow their market share," said Pacific Airport Group, owner of the Montego Bay airport. "Similarly, European charter flights have significantly benefited the airport, given the 10 per cent increase in passengers during January."

JTB statistics showed that stopover arrivals in December grew by 2.8 per cent over the same month in 2014.

For 2015, growth in stopover arrivals was largely due to 3.7 per cent growth in visitors travelling from the US and a seven per cent increase in arrivals from Europe, which offset a 6.8 per cent decline from Canada.

The smaller of the two major North American markets for Jamaica was a big driver for growth in recent years until it fell off marginally in 2013, before growing again by 5.2 per cent in 2014. The decline in 2015, however, was sharper than two years prior, putting the number of overnighting tourists from Canada 390,000 last year below 2012 levels.

Growth in the US, from where over 1.3 million tourists came, derived primarily from the Northeast, but all segments of Jamaica's largest market showed increases. European growth reflected higher numbers from the north, led by the United Kingdom, whence just shy of 200,000 persons arrived.

The Caribbean remained Jamaica's fourth-largest market at 62,600 arrivals, representing six per cent growth from year-earlier levels, while Latin America was flat at 29,300.

Arrivals from the Cayman Islands, Mexico, Chile and Brazil were the drivers for those markets.

The average length of stay of stopover visitors increased from 8.7 nights in 2014 to 8.8 nights in 2015, albeit the average room nights at hotels remained unchanged at 6.9.

On the other hand, non-resident Jamaicans, which represent seven per cent of total stopover arrivals, spent more time overnighting at hotels 8.3 nights on average in 2015 compared with 8.2 the year before. They spent less time in other types of accommodations the average number of nights stayed by non-resident Jamaicans across all accommodations fell from 16.5 in 2014 to 16.4 last year.

Still, 50 per cent or 22,000 more Jamaicans living abroad cited visiting friends and relatives as the reason for their trips last year than in 2014. Similarly, 64 per cent or 88,000 more foreigners cited the same reason for their visit in 2015, while honeymooners and wedding parties increased by 24 per cent, or by 30,000.

The increase in cruise passenger arrivals primarily reflected a 55 per cent increase at Montego Bay, where the Louis Cristal, Thomson Dream and AIDAbella began home-porting last year and where about 9,800 passengers were diverted from Falmouth Port.

At Falmouth, passenger arrivals declined by 20,000 or by 2.6 per cent, while Ocho Rios received 8.5 per cent more passengers than the year before with just 2.3 per cent more ship calls, as the Norwegian Cruise Line increased the size of the ship it berths there from the 2,400-passenger Pearl to the 4,200-passenger Epic.