Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Jamaica's Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr Wykeham McNeill, is forecasting a landmark year in the sector, with the island welcoming more than two million stopover visitors for the first time.
This would signal a 0.7 per cent increase over the 1.986 million stopover visitors in 2012.
Speaking ahead of the winter tourist season, which kicks off today, McNeill said preliminary estimates for January through November 2013 show the country has already welcomed more than 1.8 million stopover visitors.
"The start of each winter tourist season brings into greater focus the importance of this industry to our economic well-being. We anticipate that the country will earn close to US$2 billion this year," declared McNeill, while adding that with the growth of the industry, the economy does well.
"From all indications," said McNeill, "the upcoming winter is shaping up to be better than last year, which was considered 'soft' in several circles."
With January to April showing marked decline in numbers, it was not until August that the island started to buck the regional trend of flat arrivals in 2013.
"We are encouraged by the number of advanced bookings and the excitement that Brand Jamaica still generates in both our traditional and non-traditional markets," stated the tourism minister.
His optimism is heightened by the fact that after a long hiatus, investment in the hotel sector has resumed.
"This year alone, we have seen nearly $20 billion worth of investment. This has also brought new brands to the mix, such as Hyatt, Melia, Royalton and Karisma, further contributing to the diverse character of our industry."
Prospects are as encouraging on the cruise side of the industry, as the western Caribbean returns to being hot and highly desirable for winter cruising.
"Next year, we expect to have growth as we are projecting 1.4 million cruise visitors, which would make it a record year," stated McNeill, revealing that numerous new vessels were making inaugural calls in Jamaica in all three major ports.
"Just recently, our cruise ports received seven ships in a single day, with at least two in each of our ports in Montego Bay, Falmouth, and Ocho Rios, with more than 30,000 persons on-board. This and the increases we are enjoying in airlift augur well for a robust winter season, extending through 2014," he said.
On the private-sector side, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Evelyn Smith, was cautiously optimistic when The Sunday Gleaner made contact.
Acknowledging that this winter appears to be slightly better, she said the degree to which it could be better is going to be dependent on the individual businesses and area-by-area (resort area) returns.
"I can't make a sweeping prediction as a lot is going to be dependent on what happens in North America," stated Smith, while noting that the possibility of a cold winter augurs well for Jamaica, as that usually pushes visitors in to say "I must get away".
On the other side of the coin, if the winter is bad, that blizzards, for example, prevent flights from departing, "then obviously, that would create a problem with achieving our desired arrivals figures", said the JHTA head.