The recent JAPEX show was held at the Montego Bay Convention Center in April. // © Ken Williams
Jamaica recently held an earlier edition than usual of its annual Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) — the 23rd mounting of the event was held in April at the Montego Bay Convention Center. JAPEX is usually held in the fall, but since Jamaica is hosting Caribbean Marketplace in 2014 at the same venue, it only made sense to spread the two events further apart.
JAPEX is Jamaica’s premier travel trade show and serves as a forum for leading Jamaican suppliers of the island’s tourism product to meet with travel wholesalers and tour operators from Europe and the Americas. Some of the biggest news of this year’s show was the major changing of hands that Jamaica’s resorts have undergone in recent months.
Karisma Hotels & Resorts entered the Caribbean for the first time when it opened the 128-room all-inclusive Seashore Bay Beach Resort, formerly Sandy Bay Beach Resort in Negril. The resort is now undergoing extensive renovations and will reopen in November as an Azul Sensatori property. The Azul Sensatori brand is well known in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Travel agents have seen a lot of changes in SuperClubs properties over the last year, and the divestment of additional resorts by John Issa, chairman of SuperClubs, continues. Breezes Negril Grand Resort & Spa in Jamaica was taken over by Blue Diamond Hotels and Resorts. The property will be operated as an all-inclusive resort under Blue Diamond’s Memories brand. Additionally, Breezes Starfish Trelawny will open in October as a Blue Diamond Royalton Resort.
Aimbridge Hospitality has been chosen to rebrand and manage the former Hotel Royal Decameron Club Caribbean in St. Ann’s, Jamaica as Jewel Paradise Cove Resort & Spa, an exclusive adults-only resort. All 225 rooms and suites will be redesigned as colonial contemporary.
One of the sadder pieces of news to coincide with JAPEX was the announcement that The Ritz-Carlton will no longer operate the iconic Rose Hall Resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica, effective May 20. Playa Hotels and Resorts revealed that it is in negotiations to buy the resort. While Playa Hotels & Resorts may be new to travel agents, the properties they operate should ring a few bells. Playa owns 17 all-inclusive properties in the Dominican Republic and Mexico, and operates under the Secrets and Dreams brands (managed by AMResorts) and the Barcelo and Barcelo Premium brands (managed by Barcelo Hotels & Resorts). Playa Hotels and Resorts has reportedly selected Park Hyatt to manage the Montego Bay property, which would make it the first Park Hyatt in Jamaica. Playa plans to add some 100 suites.
There was also talk at JAPEX about the growing importance of the Chinese market. China is investing heavily in the Caribbean — including a $3.5 billion investment in the mega-resort complex, Baha Mar: The Bahamian Riviera.
“Our travel agent community continues to play a major role in selling the destination and is integral to our marketing efforts,” said John Lynch, director of tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board, during a press conference at JAPEX. “In fact, we have a special program targeting this key group. More than 8,000 travel agents have graduated from Jamaica’s Travel Specialist program since we rebranded it in February 2012.”
Lynch also stressed the importance of airlift and noted that Jamaica will offer more than 1.2 million air seats from the U.S. this May through December. In the Northeast, the total number of air seats during this period has increased by 7.3 percent over last year.