Jamaica is experience an increase in visitor numbers, in part due to the success of star runner Usain Bolt. // (c) 2012 Creative Commons
At the Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), held this year in Ocho Rios from Sept. 30 - Oct. 2, Jamaica tourism officials announced new highs in travel to the country, as well as a slew of new offerings to attract even more travelers in upcoming years.
Director of tourism John Lynch revealed that preliminary estimates predicted that this September would be the best in Jamaica's history, with an increase of almost six percent in stopover visitors over last September. In addition, nearly 1.5 million visitors were recorded between Jan. 1 and Sept. 29 this year, representing an increase of nearly three percent over the same period in 2011.
According to Dr. Wykeham McNeill, minister of tourism & entertainment, this increase can be attributed at least in part to a post-Olympic surge that has been coined the "Bolt Bounce," referencing the country's star runner, Usain Bolt. In addition, the Olympics hype has helped foster air travel increases into the country.
"We were in preliminary discussions with Virgin earlier this year prior to the Olympics with the objective of securing an additional flight in the winter, which would have provided 17,000 additional seats," said McNeill. "However, our discussions in London during the Olympics produced for us a year-round flight which will instead provide some 25,000 new seats."
Other air carriers will also increase their offerings, with 11,000 new seats from TuiFly for winter and summer flights to Montego Bay, as well as an added 7,200 seats from the U.S. for the 2012/2013 season. Delta Air Lines will begin new nonstop daily service from New York JFK to Montego Bay starting Dec. 15, while JetBlue will offer winter service twice daily between Fort Lauderdale and Kingston, and US Airways will add a fourth flight from Charlotte with daily service for the winter. Increases in air service will also take place from Latin America and Europe.
In order to accommodate this influx of visitors, many of the island's hotels and resorts are planning renovations, expansions or new properties, with an increase of 2,000 rooms expected over the next few years.
New properties are set to include a Courtyard by Marriott property in Kingston and an RIU Palace in Montego Bay. The Gran Bahia Principe Jamaica is currently adding 70 rooms, and Fiesta Hotel Group will be expanding with the addition of 850 rooms. Sunwing has acquired the former Trelawny Beach Hotel and is refurbishing the property with plans to reopen later this year, as well as to add more rooms and a themed water park on the property. The Jewel Runaway Bay Beach & Golf Resort - formerly the Breezes Runaway Bay and currently undergoing rebranding by Aimbridge Hospitality - is expected to complete its multimillion dollar renovations in November, and is open to guests during the refurbishment.
Cruising is also demonstrating further growth through the port of Falmouth, which opened last year and induced an increase of 62 percent in arrivals over last year.
"A few short years ago, Falmouth was unknown as a cruise port of call," said McNeill. "Today it is regarded as a state-of-the-art example of modern cruise port design and development."
In addition, the Port Authority of Jamaica has begun a program to rebrand Jamaica's cruise ports of call. To this end, Ocho Rios is now being described as the place "Where Eden Meets the Ocean," in reference to its lush natural environment of rivers and gardens.
All in all, the outlook seems optimistic for Jamaica's immediate future. Indeed, the president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA), Evelyn Smith, reported that 124 overseas buyers from major tour companies and gateways attended this year's JAPEX, indicating the destination's strong potential for even further development.
"We expect positive results to be seen in bookings to destination Jamaica and sales of made-in-Jamaica products going forward," said Smith.