Tourism interests upbeat as winter season begins
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
WESTERN BUREAU:On the heels of the start of the winter tourist season, several of the island's hoteliers say they are expecting continued growth in stopover arrivals, with the numbers trending much better than last year.
"We should be better than 2013, as last year (winter season) our first quarter was down five per cent compared to 2012," managing director of the three Iberostar Resorts, Philipp Hofer, told The Sunday Gleaner.
Hofer said his December numbers were up seven per cent compared to last year. January is six per cent up, while February and March are trending good,
"It is still early days, but we are encouraged because we were able to increase our rates slightly."
Hofer is responsible for 980 rooms at the Iberostar Suites, Iberostar Beach and the Iberostar Grand hotels in Rose Hall.
His comments have been bolstered by Minister of Tourism and Entertainment Dr Wykeham McNeill, who stated earlier this week that he was encouraged by the number of advanced bookings the island's hotels were receiving.
McNeill credited the jump with the excitement that Brand Jamaica still generates in both the traditional and non-traditional markets.
Angella Bennett, director of sales, Riu Resorts Jamaica, concurred, adding that she had seen a growing demand and incremental growth out of new markets, eastern Europe and Latin America.
Bennett, who has responsibility for selling some 2,811 rooms, the largest number for any chain on the island, said winter was pacing strong for her five hotels. "We are sold out of Christmas and New Year, and January is pacing strong."
According to her, all markets are delivering their numbers, "and we expect this to continue throughout the winter, particularly the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom".
In the meantime, McNeill said recent increases in airlift had generated an urgent need to keep increasing room stock.
"This year alone, we have seen almost $20 billion worth of investment, including several acquisitions and upgrading of properties, which has brought 840 rooms on stream. This has also brought new brands like Sensatori, Melia, Royalton White Sands Montego Bay, Hyatt and Marriott to the Jamaican hospitality family, further contributing to the diverse character of our destination," he stated.
These brands have given additional presence in the marketplace, increased marketing muscle and, most important, create some 1,947 new jobs for Jamaicans, argued McNeill.
In the case of Royalton, which is a mere one month old, checks made revealed that the hotel is sold out for Christmas, and so is its sister property, Grand Lido Negril.
The chain's director of sales, Kerry-Ann Quallo-Casserly, has described the demand for the Trelawny resort as phenomenal.