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Two months ago, Jamaica was dealing with a tourism crisis. The media was focusing on deadly protests that broke out in Kingston, and travelers booked into Jamaica vacations were wondering if it was safe to travel to the island. Even though the violence was contained in a very small section of the capital — which is hours away by car from the major resort areas on the north coast — the threat to Jamaica’s tourism was dire. It didn’t help when the U.S. instituted a travel warning and a state of emergency. Now, those warnings have been lifted and the gang kingpin Christopher “Dudus” Coke, who was the nexus of the problem, has been apprehended.
“The fallout was negligible, and during these troubles, we had tremendous support from the airlines and travel agents,” said John Lynch, director of tourism and chairman, Jamaica Tourist Board. “Airlines didn’t cancel flights, and agents did a wonderful job explaining the geography of the situation to their clients and getting the word out that it was safe to travel.”
Lynch observed that Jamaica is on track to have its best July ever, and the island’s tourism figures in the last days of July are ahead of last year.
“We have some catching up to do when it comes to fall bookings, but the fall is looking hard-pressed for everyone,” noted Lynch.
According to Lynch, over the next six months, the Jamaica Tourist Board will be spending $7 to $8 million worldwide in promoting the island. Jamaica is one of only three Caribbean destinations showing tourism growth in 2009 (the other two were the Dominican Republic and Cuba), with Jamaica holding the top position at 3.6 percent growth.
Jamaica went into the summer with two major projects under construction. They include the approximately $51.7 million Montego Bay Convention Centre, which is rushing to complete construction before its opening date in January 2011 and the arrival of its first group, Caribbean Marketplace 2011; and the huge Historic Falmouth Cruise 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.
“As far as the convention center is concerned, it is full-speed ahead,” said Lynch. “There’s no problem at all. Everything is in shape in Falmouth, too.”
The Big PushJamaica is not resting solely on promotional efforts. The tourism board has also announced an impressive push to bring agents to Jamaica to assess the island first hand.
“In September, we’re bringing in 2,000 travel agents from the U.S. — 500 agents at a shot,” said Lynch.
The program is called “Wish You Were Here,” and the price tag for the fam is a very reasonable $99, especially since this includes roundtrip airfare from a connecting flight to a major gateway and then on to Jamaica. Dates are Sept. 10-13, 17-20, 24-27 and October 1-4. The $99 fee also covers hotel accommodations, based on double occupancy, ground transfers and all meals and site inspections. A single occupancy rate is available on request. Interested agents will be required to submit an IATAN/CLIA card and List/CLIA Certificate or OSSN membership card with their company check. The JTB also notes that the fam trip requires extensive walking, and participation is mandatory. The deadline to respond is Aug. 16.