Tue | Sep 19, 2017

Bartlett eyes a million visitors at six-month mark

Published:Monday | June 5, 2017 | 6:00 AM
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett in a jovial mood with Ellen Torbert, Southwest Airlines' vice-president of diversity and inclusion, after she presented a miniature plane to him during a welcome reception commemorating the inaugural Southwest flight from Ft Lauderdale in Florida.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Jamaica will, for the first time, record more than one million stopover visitors within a six-month period, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is projecting.

Currently, the figures stand at 900,071, and with April recording a 10 per cent increase over the same period last year, May reporting an 8.7 per cent jump and June projecting double digits, Bartlett said exceeding the one-million mark was certain.

Earnings are already trending at six per cent, twice the rate of increase of arrivals, also a first for Jamaica, Bartlett noted.

In the first four months of 2017, the sector earned a record US$1 billion - a 6.5 per cent increase over the same period last year.

The tourism minister was addressing the media, tourism officials and Southwest Airlines executives during a reception commemorating the arrival of the US carrier's inaugural Ft Lauderdale, Florida-Montego Bay flight yesterday afternoon at Sangster International Airport.

"This marks the strengthening of the partnership between Jamaica and America's largest low-cost carrier, which began in July 2014 with Southwest's inaugural flight from Baltimore/Washington International Airport to Sangster International Airport," stated Bartlett.

The airline currently operates four flights from the United States into Jamaica, namely, Orlando, Baltimore, Houston, and now Ft Lauderdale.

Bartlett credited the carrier for contributing to the numbers, which will see Jamaica experiencing its strongest summer ever. Southwest will add 52,000 seats to the destination. In 2016, Southwest brought some 180,000 visitors to Jamaica.

Far from satisfied, the tourism minister said some 100,000 new airline seats are slated to come on stream by mid-June, from gateways including Spain, Portugal, Germany and Vancouver, Canada.

... Sangster to upgrade in preparation for boom

MBJ Airports Limited, operators of Sangster International Airport, is not sitting on its laurels and is making preparations for the influx of visitors from Southwest and other carriers with an improvement in infrastructure, ranging from the runway to the terminal.

MBJ Airports' Dr Rafael Echevarne said the idea was to ensure the experience when entering Jamaica was smooth. He said immigration is also one of the areas to be upgraded.

For her part, Southwest Airlines' vice-president, Ellen Torbert, who has responsibility for diversity and inclusion, said she was excited to see efforts were being made to improve the seamlessness in travel coming to the airport.

Torbert boasted that Southwest charges no change fees; and provides free refreshments on all its flights, free television, and worldwide hospitality.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com