Mon | Feb 17, 2020

Tourism high as arrivals soar

Published:Sunday | March 3, 2019 | 12:10 AMJanet Silvera - Senior Gleaner Writer
File Tourist rafting on the Rio Grande in Portland.
File Tourist rafting on the Rio Grande in Portland.


Jamaica is experiencing its biggest visitor arrival numbers in history, with January and February recording some 900,000 stopover and cruise ship passengers.

Not only are the island’s hotels registering high occupancy levels, averaging 85 per cent and upwards, but the resorts’ average daily rate (ADR) is up, with some boutique properties charging as high as US$800 per night all-inclusive.

The month of February is up by 14.9 per cent, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett told The Sunday Gleaner on Friday.

Noting that the country welcomed 432,000 visitors at both the Sangster and the Norman Manley international airports, the tourism minister said cruise shipping was even more impressive, with 469,000 passengers visiting the island’s shores. This equates to 43,000 more tourists compared to the corresponding time last year.

“This is significant because it means we are on track to have over 200,000 more visitors this year and could end the year at 4.5 per cent increase,” added Bartlett, revealing that earnings for the period amounted to US$626 million.

The minister’s optimism was bolstered by the number of new rooms that are about to be added to the inventory, with H10 expected to complete 500 by November, Half Moon to open an additional 175 by fall, AC Marriott opening with 120 by June, RIU Ocho Rios adding 35, and Wyndham Kingston joining the roster soon.

“At present projection, we could be up to $3.8 billion by the end of 2019,” Bartlett noted, adding that his five per cent in five years’ strategy is very much on target. In fact, tourist arrivals have grown by 22 per cent since 2015, he boasted.

“We are now poised to achieving $4 billion in revenue by 2020.”

Pegged against other industries, tourism, he said, has the highest growth rate in terms of value added to GDP.

“We have never seen this kind of performance of the tourism sector in our history. This is the most powerful period of growth.

Quoting STATIN figures, the tourism minister said in 2017, the industry was up by nine per cent of the GDP.

As the room counts grow, in the pipeline, there are plans to break ground for between 6,000 and 7,000 additional rooms, set to come on stream now through 2023.

“Those rooms will assure us of increments of growth,” said Bartlett, crediting the uptick to aggressive marketing in the USA, the fastest-growing area for Jamaica; South America’s new flights coming in from Latin America; and tourism diplomacy that the country is pursuing.

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Omar Robinson, said hoteliers, both large and small, are basking in the uptick in arrivals in February and the impressive bookings for March, much of which has been attributed to client diversions because of economic and social uncertainty in tourism hotspot Mexico.

“March is also fully booked for most hotels averaging 85 per cent upwards, and they are still booking for March and April. Some properties, especially the larger ones, are showing high occupancies until August, so this is a plus,” Robinson explained.

He said some attributed the increase to problems being experienced in Mexico, and the redirecting of their customers here.

“However, as they get into the summer, the numbers have softened, but it is still early and they are expecting last-minute bookings … and as we get into April, we are hoping that we can push the winter rates later into April to capitalise on a late Easter,” he added.

For Adam Stewart, deputy chairman of Sandals Resorts International, Jamaica continues to be what he describes as “a very hot destination”.

“Increased airlift, coupled with extensive marketing efforts not only in our top-performing markets such as North America, but also, for example, Sandals’ huge presence in Europe, has been the springboard that continues to catapult Jamaica’s presence on the international stage.”