Highlights From JAPEX 2008

While major announcements centered on new developments, a different direction for attractions and an improved infrastructure, news of full-service casino licensing caused the biggest stir.

By: By Eleanor M. Wilson

Although Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) officials just returned from presentations in China and Japan, their number-one priority at the Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), recently held in Kingston, Jamaica, were the 103 buyer delegates from 74 companies. While major announcements centered on new developments, a different direction for attractions and an improved infrastructure, news of full-service casino licensing caused the biggest stir. 

Prime Minister Bruce Golding opened JAPEX with a gala reception on the lawn of his official residence, Vale Royal, honoring tour operators, airline executives, media representatives and other industry entities. 

“We welcome you here,” he said, “so we can thank you personally for all you do to make Jamaica the preferred destination for so many travelers, but we can never relax. So many others want to copy our success. We must continue to build our product — to diversify the offerings we put on the market. You will see this week that we’re working very hard to bring a whole new range of experiences to this area we know as Jamaica.”

High Rollers Set to Arrive 

One such experience includes casino gaming, beyond the current slots-only offerings. It’s currently being considered for licensing if accompanied by hotels of at least 1,000 rooms. No licenses will be issued to stand-alone gaming houses. Two casino properties have already been approved. 

Celebration Jamaica signed a memo of understanding to build a 2,000-room hotel and casino at the Palmyra Resort complex near Montego Bay, positioned near the marina area and costing $1.2 billion. Harmony Cove developers originally planned 4,500 rooms on over 2,000 mostly beachfront acres outside Duncan’s. With the casino addition, accommodations will be almost doubled, spread among condos, residences and hotels. This complex is scheduled for completion by the end of 2009.

Major Growth & Investment

Port Antonio, on the lush and fertile eastern shore, is ready to rise again, as the new north coast highway continues toward that junction. One developer plans to introduce a new brand, more up- market and value-added, which fits directly into the tourism plan.

The Prime Minister noted, “We will especially favor qualified developers who can offer a product that adds another aspect to what is already found in Jamaica.”

Port Royal, another underdeveloped town with a lot of promise, has never attracted the right investors. To counteract this, a plan is under way to reinstate the Kingston cruise ship port. The design, similar to the current Falmouth project, would cater to ‘Genesis’ size ships, but would include facilities to tender passengers across the harbor for sightseeing and craft shopping. While Port Royal today is essentially a fishing village, its rich history includes pirate tales and an earthquake that sent the ‘city of sin’ to the bottom of the sea.

Natural Wonders

Jamaica’s distinctive culture and beautiful natural resources are also up for promotion boosts. Focus is now on developing attractions that display the talents of local entrepreneurs, or that emphasize the natural beauty of the island.

Rainforest Bobsled Jamaica at Mystic Mountain, near Dunn’s River Falls, honors both nature and culture. Slated to open in late June, the 100-acre jungle site boasts a continuously running chairlift soaring above the treetops for almost a mile to the mountaintop. From a building resembling old Jamaican railroad stations, visitors can take a rapid downhill bobsled ride, go zip lining to nine different platforms or dine while observing fabulous Ocho Rios views. An adjoining building houses a museum, honoring the many internationally recognized Jamaicans who have achieved honors in various sports.

Looking Ahead

The JAPEX Conference certainly had an impact on attendees, including some 150 travel agents and an 11-member delegation from Russia—a rapidly growing new market for the island nation.

Laurie Hernandez, from Macy’s Travel, Michigan, who specializes in selling upscale all-inclusives such as Sandals and Couples, told TravelAge West she wants to do more family travel and discovered major opportunities at the conference.

Thanks to the conference, Jamaican cruise specialist Patty Toppa from Gadabout Travel in Melbourne, Fla. plans to seek out more diverse attractions and boutique hotels for future client itineraries.

Judging from the number of growth opportunities and planned development in the region, the conference was a clear sign of great things to come.