Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
Today, Jamaica will welcome its two millionth stopover visitor in a year, when American Airlines, flight 380 from Miami, Florida, touches down at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, St James.
All indications up to April were that the island was experiencing a marked decline in arrivals, with the reduction as high as 3.1 per cent.
But Jamaica's Director of Tourism John Lynch is crediting the increase with a four-month soar in stopover arrivals, from September to December.
"We are doing well because the product, our hotels and attractions are performing well, while the Jamaican people remain our greatest asset, staking claim as some of the friendliest in the world," said Lynch.
"And we had the capacity, which were the airline seats and the rooms," added Lynch.
He argued an aggressive adaptation to new media and work within different areas to promote Jamaica have resulted in good returns.
"We are on the world stage, and Tessanne Chin has played her part in helping us in that arena," Lynch stated, as he credited the winner of the NBC-produced programme, 'The Voice', with the positive publicity that the country has been reaping.
Acknowledging that the numbers were still down in one of the island's most important source markets, Lynch said Canada will end the year just over one per cent down when compared to last year.
In the meantime, chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), Dennis Morrison, said the milestone has been on the back of tremendous investment in new resorts and modernisation of infrastructure which took off from the start of the last decade, "that paved the way for expansion of new markets in places such as Canada".
Morrison, who has been chairman for the last two years, said as a result of the investments made, Jamaica quickly reached the 1.5-million mark in 2006, having stagnated in the 1990s.
"It is that momentum that has carried us to the two-million mark," said Morrison.
Going forward, he said Jamaica will have to accelerate its drive to penetrate new markets, while bringing a fresh approach to the traditional markets.
The JTB's push to diversify markets has seen the country attracting business from various countries in Latin America and Europe.
Jamaica now has airlift provided by carriers such as Copa in the Latin American market, and Transaero, which opened up the market in Russia.
Hotel chains bullish
The turnaround has resulted in traditional hotel chains such as Sandals Resorts International (SRI) becoming even more bullish, spearheading extended familiarisation trips for Russian travel agents and journalists.
"We were able to build invaluable relationships and learn the unique requirements of the Russian clientele from the travel agents on site, as they visited our properties and luxury-included offerings," stated Wayne Cummings, SRI's director of business processes and administration.
According to Cummings, Sandals and Beaches resorts expect this market to grow and look forward to the continued diversification of the visitor profile to Jamaica.
By year end, Jamaica's stopover arrivals should be up by 1.5 per cent, which is considered flat, but better than the rest of the region.
Up to October, the two large countries in the region, Cuba and the Dominican Republic, were showing either small declines or small growth. Cuba was a 1.3 per cent decline and Dominican Republic a 1.4 per cent increase.
Barbados was down 6.2 per cent and the US Virgin Islands 5.8 per cent, up to September 2013.