John Lynch | Exciting times for tourism in Jamaica
The past year, 2016, has been a strong one for the island's tourism industry. The industry continues to show its resilience despite the global challenges. With the winter season upon us, indications are that as a destination we have much to celebrate, as we remain on track to meet our growth target.
During an election year in the United States (US), there is the notion that travel is often negatively impacted. However, despite a prolonged presidential campaign, Jamaica has seen an increase in visitor arrivals from the US. Given the solid year-end performance, indications are that this will continue into 2017.
My optimism is buoyed by the robust performance of the US, Jamaica's primary source market, which is solidly back on a growth path. The Canadian market also seems to be moving in the right direction, with a 7.2 per cent increase in stopover arrivals in September. Between January and September 2016, the European market grew by just under five per cent and we have also received a lot of traction in the Polish market.
Our projected target is five per cent growth in arrivals for the calendar year 2017. This is in keeping with the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), which forecasts international tourist arrivals to increase by 3.5 per cent to 4.5 per cent over the full year 2016.
Among the factors contributing to this solid performance is the expansion in our room stock, increased airlift and completion of the north/south highway.
BOOMING HOTEL CONSTRUCTION
No doubt, the past year has been exciting for the accommodation sector, with significant construction taking place in 2016 and continuing into 2017.
In October, The Cliff Hotel reopened after the off-season break with a new yoga pavilion and fitness centre. More recently, RIU Reggae, an all-inclusive adults-only hotel, opened with 450 rooms; Royalton Blue Waters with 225 rooms; and Royal Decameron Cornwall with 142 rooms. AM Resorts' new Breathless Resort, consisting of 150 rooms, is under construction and should be ready by December 15, 2016. Also set to reopen for the winter tourist season after rebranding and construction is the 50-room Zoetry Montego Bay, owned by AM Resorts. This year, the destination also felt the impact of the increase in our room stock with the addition of 400 new rooms at Gran Bahia Principe. Moon Palace reintroduced 750 rooms at its rebranded resort.
We continue to look ahead to 2017 with great optimism, as more than 1,000 new rooms are expected to be added with the opening of the 600-room hotel Royalton Negril Resort & Spa and the 166-room adults-only resort - The Hideaway at Royalton Negril Resort. Azul Sensatori will expand their room stock, adding some 51 rooms. Meanwhile, its Azul Beach will have some 98 rooms and expected to be ready by February 2017. Spanish Court Hotel will make its entrance in the Montego Bay area on Gloucester Avenue in summer 2017, with some 120 rooms.
In Kingston, The Renfrew will be a five-star addition to Kingston's room inventory. The new hotel will offer 32 high-end rooms and eight two-bedroom apartments. When it opens in October 2017, it will be Kingston's first extended-stay hotel. Construction is also under way at the former Wyndham Kingston. The 303-room property was acquired by the Kevin Hendrickson-led Courtleigh Hotel group.
It is expected that this growth will continue over the next few years, as early next year, Karisma Hotels and Resorts will break ground on Sugar Cane, a $900-million hotel project on over 200 acres of land in St Ann, near Ocho Rios.
When complete, there will be an addition of 10 hotels and 5,000 new rooms to Jamaica's hotel inventory. Three of the 10 hotels in the Sugar Cane project are expected to be completed in two years following the start of construction.
FOR WINTER 2017
The increase in airline seats for the winter season is great news for the industry. For winter 2017, the destination will receive in excess of 4,000 new seats from the United States over last winter. The popular Northeast corridor and the Midwest account for this increase, due in large measure to the new charter service from Rockford, Illinois, by Apple Vacations, which begins in January. Advance bookings for this service are very strong.
Another gateway from which we expect increased air seats this winter is Minneapolis, which is being served by Delta and Sun Country Charter. In the Northeast, we have direct service from Boston on Delta, starting December 17. This is in addition to current direct service offered by American Airlines and JetBlue Airways.
With the increase in room stock and airlift, this makes it possible to attain the five per cent growth in arrivals in Winter 2017 over Winter 2016.
OPENING OF NORTH/SOUTH HIGHWAY
The opening of the 230-kilometre, multi-lane highway in March of this year has been a significant development for the island's tourism, with visitors to Jamaica having more options for their arrival gateway.
With the North-South link of Highway 2000, visitors to Ocho Rios can now fly into Kingston, the capital city, and get to the resort town in about one hour. Constructed by China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC), the four-to-six lane, controlled, access motorway has reduced travel time from Kingston to the north coast town of Ocho Rios by approximately 30 minutes. Furthermore, cruise passengers can dock in Ocho Rios and Falmouth, travel to Kingston, the UNESCO Creative City of Music, for the day to visit cultural attractions, and return in time to depart on their trip.
OPTIMISTIC OUTLOOK FOR WINTER AND THE REMAINDER OF 2017
Jamaica's tourist industry has long continued to withstand the global economic storm. With the performance this year, I can look with optimism towards a successful winter 2017, followed by a strong spring and summer. The prospects for the island's tourist industry are encouraging, given the number of new hotel rooms slated to come on stream and the increased availability of airlift to the island. Transportation to the island is becoming easier both by air and sea, especially with the island now being served by all the major airlines and cruise lines from our target markets.
The destination is poised for great things and we can all look forward to not only welcoming new investors, but new visitors to experience Jamaica ... Home of All Right.
- John D. Lynch is chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board.