Jamaica Packs a Punch at 2010 JAPEX

From legalizing gambling to a new port and plenty of new resorts, Jamaica continues to enhance its offerings By: Mark Rogers
From left to right: Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett; <br />Carrole Guntley, director general in the Ministry of Tourism; and Gordon...
From left to right: Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett;
Carrole Guntley, director general in the Ministry of Tourism; and Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart, chairman and founder, Sandals Resorts International // © Jamaica Tourist Board 2010

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The message was upbeat at the 2010 Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) conference, held last month at Half Moon Resort in Montego Bay. Edmund Bartlett, the island’s Minister of Tourism set the tone early when he positioned Jamaica as one of only three Caribbean destinations showing tourism growth in 2009 (the other two, according to Bartlett’s report, were the Dominican Republic and Cuba) with Jamaica holding the top position with 3.6 percent growth. Bartlett said that discounting and strategic packaging was crucial to last year’s growth.

“The customer is driving the bottom line in a way it never has before,” said Bartlett. “Twitter is out there. That new customer, that new boss of capitalism, is tweeting away.”

John Lynch, director and chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board announced that the island planned to host more than 3,000 travel agents from the U.S. in 2010. Lynch also noted that while the U.S. continues to be Jamaica’s main market, Canada showed startling growth in 2009 — an increase of 22.9 percent — while visitor numbers from the U.S. increased by 1.9 percent.

Jamaica has a formidable slate of tourism projects and agendas only months away from fruition. They include the new approximately $51.7 million Montego Bay Convention Centre, which is rushing to complete construction before its opening date in January 2011.

The Historic Falmouth Port Project Takes Shape
Work is also underway at the huge Historic Falmouth Port project, which is being spear-headed by Royal Caribbean International (RCI). This will be the third major cruise port in Jamaica (there’s a fourth, smaller port in Port Antonio). RCI's biggest ship, Oasis of the Seas, will call on the new harbor when it opens in January.

Falmouth is located on the north coast about midway between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and has not been considered a tourism destination until recently. While there is tremendous room for infrastructure improvement and the repairing of historic buildings, there’s also an authentic Jamaican ambience that travelers can discover.

“The concept is to present Jamaica in a fresh light,” said John Tercek, vice president of development for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line.

When completed, the Historic Falmouth Port will comprise shopping areas, pedestrian streets, tram and walking tours and a boutique hotel.

“This will not be an exclusive Royal Caribbean port,” added Tercek. “The Falmouth Port may bring such cruise companies as Disney to Jamaica, companies that don’t currently call at the island.”

Letting the Secrets Out
In conjunction with the JAPEX, AMResorts threw a party to officially unveil Secrets St. James and Secrets Wild Orchid Montego Bay. The two-resort, $180 million project is projected to receive more than 52,000 guests within its first year of operation. The official ribbon cutting took place on the resorts’ Promenade, a main plaza shared by the two resorts.

While celebrating the opening, Jamaica’s tourism philosophy was nicely summed up by Bruce Golding, Jamaica’s Prime Minister, when he said, “We’re not going to contract to survive — we’re going to expand to grow.”

One of the more surprising announcements at JAPEX was SuperClubs’ announcement that the company will debut a new brand. This news came only months after the company’s extensive rebranding efforts to consolidate and reduce its number of brands.

Paul Pennicook, president of International Lifestyle, Inc., the worldwide representative of SuperClubs resorts, announced that Hedonism III will re-launch as an all-inclusive SuperFun Resort & Spa targeted toward couples and singles.

“We debated adding this brand, but we didn’t want to have another Breezes next to Breezes Runaway Bay,” said Pennicook.

Beginning Aug. 22, the resort will close to be transformed into the SuperFun Resort for an Oct. 14 opening. During the closure, Hedonism III bookings will be honored at Hedonism II.

“The new resort will have elevated amenities at wallet-friendly prices,” said Pennicook.

Some changes at the new resort are noteworthy. Airport transfers will not be complimentary; scuba and motorized water sports won’t be included; and instead of premium brands, local and international brands of liquor will be served. One holdover from Hedonism III is a secluded, clothing-optional beach.

TravelAge West spoke one-on-one with Pennicook and asked if the SuperFun decision was directly related to the huge spike in Canadian arrivals to Jamaica in 2009.

“The decision is in response to changes in the market. In fact, our first contract is with a Canadian wholesaler,” said Pennicook.

In other news at JAPEX, Island Outpost announced that its Goldeneye resort will reopen on Oct. 10 after being closed for two years. The property has added 11 beach cottages, six lagoon suites and two new restaurants. A real coup for Goldeneye was hiring Jamaican Olympian Iona Wynter to direct the resort’s fitness program.

Jamaica has also legalized casino gaming quite recently, and 1,500- to 2,000- room mega resorts containing a gaming component are currently on the drawing board. Without question, there is plenty on tap to attract new and returning visitors to Jamaica in the years to come.

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