Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WITH JUST under a month before the winter tourist season ends, Jamaica is experiencing a seven per cent increase in stopover arrivals, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett revealed yesterday.
Bartlett said March's arrival figures already reflected a seven per cent rise, following on the back of upticks of 3.8 per cent for February and 8.4 per cent for January.
The winter tourist season, which started December 15, ends on April 15.
"Close to half a million people will have visited the island by the end of this week and we will go over that mark by the Easter weekend," Bartlett predicted, calling the boon a "record".
He is convinced that the soft opening of the new Secrets Resorts in Montego Bay, which will welcome its first visitors next weekend at its 350-room Orchid resort, will beef up the numbers for the already flourishing tourism sector - Jamaica's saving grace during the worldwide economic turmoil in 2009.
The minister's comments come in the wake of reports from the island's hoteliers that February was the best month they had experienced in the industry, with marked increase in business out of Canada.
"Riu has seen a great recovery of the Canadian market, followed by the Americans. The increased seat capacity to Jamaica has helped tremendously in keeping our hotels full," Angella Bennett, Riu's director of sales, told The Gleaner.
She said all four Riu hotels were solidly booked for February.
"The results were fantastic, at a very good price point," said Bennett.
The Riu director of sales said allied stakeholders in the tourism industry - including attraction and transportation operators - benefited from the high occupancy.
At least one resort, the Grand Palladium in the western Jamaica parish of Hanover, was reportedly overbooked by 300 rooms and some guests had to be accommodated as far as Kingston, as all other hotels in the major resort towns - Negril, Ocho Rios and Montego Bay - were fully booked.
The three Sunset Resorts hotels enjoyed year-on-year single-digit growth, with February closing at approximately 88 per cent occupancy.
"The trend is more towards short-term bookings as the impact of 2009's economic downturn led consumers to shop for more competitive rates at the last minute," Charmaine Deane, Sunset's director of communications, told The Gleaner.
"We also benefited somewhat from increased lift out of Canada, and are cautiously optimistic as we look to the spring and summer months in all markets," Deane added.
The Holiday Inn Sunspree Resort in Montego Bay said it was forced to reroute guests to other hotels because of a booking overflow in February.