Letter of the Day | No fake news on Canada tourist data
THE EDITOR, Sir:
In a recent Gleaner column by Opposition Spokesman on Tourism Wykeham McNeill titled 'Clearing the fog on tourism figures', it is most important that the air be cleared on the performance of the Canadian market, Jamaica's second largest source for tourists.
Between 2007 and 2011, while Edmund Bartlett was minister of tourism, Jamaica experienced a boom in the number of Canadians visiting the island. The number of Canadian tourists rose from 190,650 in 2007 to 378,938 in 2011, putting us then on a firm growth path to 500,000 Canadian visitors per annum.
It is noteworthy that the boom years 2007 to 2011 was at the very same time that the global economy experienced its biggest meltdown in nearly a century, with destinations across the Caribbean recording single and double digit declines in tourist arrivals. Jamaica was one of a mere few that stayed above water due to aggressive and effective growth and engagement strategies.
The growth spurt continued into McNeill's time in office, which began in 2012, as tourism minister, peaking at 419,898 in 2014. Thereafter, the numbers began to sink.
Contrary to what is stated in the article, the Canadian economic challenges of 2015 did not significantly affect travel out of Canada to the region. The decline in Canadian visitors to Jamaica that followed was, in fact, because of us losing market share to other destinations.
This occurred when Canada's Air Transat, a major carrier for Canadian visitors, redeployed flights from Jamaica to Mexico and Cuba. This was the principal reason for the decline not the economic challenges in Canada. Rather than addressing the challenge right on, effective action was not forthcoming. As such, Jamaica recorded a 6.8 per cent decline in 2015 over the previous year 2014 and further declines early 2016.
Arresting the decline
At the start of Minister Bartlett's administration, he assured stakeholders that he would lead the charge in arresting the decline. The recovery programme was swift and led to meetings with major Canadian travel stakeholders, including Air Canada Vacations, WestJet Vacations, Sunwing Vacations and Travelbrands.
Later, on December 20, 2016, there was a signing ceremony for an Air Services Agreement between Jamaica and Canada to create an environment for more airlift and to help stoke an increase in visitor arrivals. More recently, Jamaica has 40,000 additional airline seats committed for winter from Canada, with Sunwing confirming that they will operate more than 100,000 airline seats for the season, a historic development, including non-stop flights between Montego Bay and Vancouver, Canada's third largest metropolitan area. The Canadian market has started to recover, with the January to October 2017 period recording an increase of 8.2 per cent over the same period last year.
Senior Adviser, Strategist
Ministry of Tourism