Stopover flights near 1m mark
Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer
DR WYKEHAM McNeill, minister of tourism and entertainment, has said stopover arrivals are near the one-million mark six months into 2014 - a 2.2 per cent increase over the same period last year.
The minister is convinced the addition of America's largest domestic carrier, Southwest Airlines, to the island's airline roster will help to maintain this buoyancy.
"With Southwest's service to Montego Bay out of Baltimore, Atlanta and Orlando, we now have access, through their route network, to every major city in the lower 48 states, except Cincinnati," McNeill told a packed room of media personnel and tourism stakeholders during a welcome reception for Southwest officials at the Half Moon, A Rock Resort, in Montego Bay, on Tuesday.
He was quick to point out that, although Jamaica has been aggressive in developing new tourism markets, neither his ministry nor the Jamaica Tourist Board had lost sight of the fact that the United States (US) remains "our number-one market. Air arrivals out of the US account for more than 63 per cent of total air arrivals in Jamaica".
Southwest, which has taken over the Air Tran routes, having bought that airline, will operate 32 flights between the Sangster International Airport and Baltimore Washington International, Orlando and Atlanta, making some 4,500 seats available to prospective passengers weekly.
By November, airline officials say those numbers will move to 36 flights and 5,150 seats.
"These new flights by Southwest inspire confidence that the rate of growth we are seeing now can be maintained," said McNeill.
His optimism was bolstered by chief executive officer of MBJ Airports Limited, Anthony Allicastro, who tagged the historic deal between Jamaica and Southwest as a "big deal in aviation. This is a vast network that will help to drive service to Jamaica".
Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board, Dennis Morrison, who was at the airport to meet the flight, described the investment by the US airline company as a vote of confidence in Jamaica.
"This is a huge accomplishment, it speaks to where Jamaica is positioned," he posited.