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The American Connection

America's influence on Jamaica's tourism

Garwin Davis
Staff Reporter

FILE :This group of travel agents from the United States enjoy sweet sound of Second Imij at the 'Carnival Under the Sea' theme party at SuperClubs Hedonism II in Negril.

Jamaica's tourism, according to industry players, notwithstanding its close proximity to the United States, has flourished partly because of the involvement of American investors within the sector.

So much so, they say, that today some of the island's finest resorts are either part owned or managed by American interests. Up to 65 per cent of the business coming to the island is derived from America which tourism insiders note is greatly in part due to the massive advertising campaigns done in the United States by businesses with ties to Jamaica.

The 700-room Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios, the largest in the country and part owned by the powerful U.S.-based Marriott group, stands as one of the more significant investments. The hotel, which offers both an all-inclusive and a European Plan package to guests, though a popular family resort, gets most of its business from conventions - both local and overseas.

"Business and group meetings account for a lot of our business," explained Director of Operations Peter Fraser, whose hotel usually operates at a very high occupancy level. "We have been receiving a number of overseas cancellations since the terrorist attacks on the United States last week. With Americans reluctant to fly at the moment this may affect us for a while."

The Ritz Carlton luxury hotel in Rosehall, Montego Bay, became a reality because of one man's dream - the late John Rollins. The American billionaire, according to his wife Michelle, "has always loved Jamaica and it was his dream to bring the 430-room upscale property to the island". Mrs. Rollins noted that having the Ritz Carlton in Jamaica was a major plus for the country's tourism. She pointed to the posh state-of-the-art golf course, the White Witch, as a major draw for the upscale market, noting that "this was my husband's dream."

To build the golf course and club in addition to its stake in the hotel, the Ritz Carlton American group kicked in US$150 million into the property. "This is the sort of belief they have in Jamaica as a prime destination," noted Verona Carter, the resort's public relations manager. "Ninety per cent of our business comes from the American market which is why the barbaric attack on that nation last week has disrupted our operations greatly."

We have been receiving a number of overseas cancellations since the terrorist attacks on the United States last week. With Americans reluctant to fly at the moment this may affect us for a while.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson agreed. He cited as significant the level of partnership between the Ritz Carlton and Jamaica's tourism interests. And in calling Mr. Rollins "a visionary and a friend of Jamaica," said that having the hotel in the country was a testament of the country's marquee tourism value. He added that Jamaica was a proud partner of the U.S.-based group and that both interests would benefit tremendously from the association.

Other notable American tourism investment can be found in the Wyndham and the Holiday Inn, both in Montego Bay. There are also quite a number of smaller properties such as the Jamaica Inn in Ocho Rios, Prospect Villas in St. Mary and recently, Navy Island in Portland. "The Jamaica Inn has been owned by the same American investors for the past 50 years," explained General Manager, Peter Hall. "These are people who love this country and have been major contributors to the local economy." Mr. Hall said that despite the problems that have always been associated with tourism, Jamaica Inn, on direct orders from its American owners, has always sought to protect staff, noting that "the workers have always been our first priority".

Of significance was the response of corporate head offices from abroad following the September 11 attacks in the United States. The American headquarters instructed their local hotels to offer free accommodations to tourists who were stranded in Jamaica. "Numerous guests were given complimentary stays," said Mr. Fraser. "Jamaica Grande, as were the case with other properties, did a lot for cash strapped guests."

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©Copyright 2001 Jamaica Gleaner. Produced by Go-Jamaica.com.