Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association president Nicola Madden-Greig delivered the opening speech. // © 2015 Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association
Feature image (above): The Blue and John Crow Mountains’ designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site was big news at JAPEX 2015. // © 2015 Jamaica Community Tourism
One question on everyone’s mind at the 2015 Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) was how the country plans to respond when Cuba fully opens to the North American market.
Nicola Madden-Greig, president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA), offered her opinion when he took the stage during the conference’s opening ceremony.
“I personally believe this is an opportunity to promote a ‘new Caribbean,’” Madden-Greig said.
Madden-Greig urged for the creation of a Caribbean experience, on par with the Mediterranean experience — instead of competing, the islands should work together to create the strongest possible itineraries.
Community-based tourism has also received a big push from Jamaica Tourism Board (JTB).
For example, the Tourism Product Development Company unveiled eight new tours focused on providing clients with community experiences. These range from visiting an indigenous Rastafari village, where guests will meet locals and learn about their culture, to a tour of the Charles Town Maroon Village, where they will learn the history of the Maroon people.
More adventure-oriented travel was also well-represented with Chukka Tours, which has added a new excursion at Mayfield Falls where clients can participate in a river walk.
A new sector within the tourism board called Jamaica Sport was created last year to focus on sports tourism. Its current focus is on increasing tourism during off-peak seasons and developing the organizational framework to both bid on and host new events.
Jason Hall, deputy director of cruise, events and attractions for JTB, said Jamaica also hopes to cultivate more interest in golf and tennis sporting events. Golf is already a big attraction to the island, with programs such as Annie’s Revenge. Tennis is receiving a big push with offerings from hotels such asthe Rose Hall Hilton, which provides guests lessons from former Wimbledon, Davis Cup and Grand Slam Players.
Other big events, such as the annual Reggae Marathon, are trying to attract more nations to take part in the run. Jamaica Sport also hopes to work with more cruise lines in the future to create special tournaments, such as the one recently hosted by Norwegian Cruise Line.
Hotels and Tourism Infrastructure
Renovation and refurbishment was a big theme throughout JAPEX, with properties including Jamaica Inn, Hedonism II and Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa undergoing renovations, and Moon Palace Jamaica Grande in its last few phases of construction.
But Jamaica’s hotels aren’t the only thing being renovated. The road from Kingston to Montego Bay is also undergoing refurbishment, while the commute between Kingston and Montego Bay will be significantly shortened, with a new travel time of about 1.5 hours . Currently, the route takes about 3 hours without traffic.
Sangster International Airport was also recently renovated. The airport has added a VIP area called Club MoBay Departure Lounge, where travelers can sample an assortment of free food, make use of the open bar and even receive a massage.
Also making travel from the West more appealing is the new direct flight from LAX to Montego Bay via American Airlines, beginning in December. Daily flights from Houston into Montego Bay will also be available through Southwest Airlines, and service from Philadelphia into Montego Bay will be available for four days a week through Frontier Airlines.
Norman Manley International Airport also added a new VIP departure lounge called Club Kingston, which will have the same amenities as Club MoBay and include faster processing through security and immigration.
According to Paul Pennicook, director of tourism for JTB, 60,000 airline seats will be added during the winter season.
Hotel openings scheduled for later this year include Courtyard Kingston Highway 401/Division Street and AMResorts’ Sunscape Cove Resort & Spa and Sunscape Splash Resort & Spa. AMResorts also announced its new wellness-oriented Zoetry Montego Bay property, which will open December 2016. More than 1,600 rooms have been added for the winter season.
Another big topic of conversation at JAPEX was the recent announcement that the Blue and John Crow Mountains is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another cause for celebration was Jamaica once again breaking the 2 million stopover visitor barrier for the second year in a row.
In short, the future of Jamaica’s tourism continued to look bright.
“We have already seen a 3.1 percent increase over 2014 for the January to June period, and we look forward to an even more successful 2015-16 winter season,” Madden-Greig said. “The world is not standing still and neither are we.”