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The overall theme at JAPEX 2018 — which was held Sept. 23-25 in Montego Bay, Jamaica — was one of expansion and development. The conference also offered a closer look into Jamaica as an overall destination.
Travel agents, tourism board executives, tour operators, hoteliers and members of the media assembled on the beaches of Montego Bay to learn about the recent and upcoming developments and tourism strategies that are being put in place as Jamaica moves forward into another season.
“Tourism is the only industry in Jamaica that has grown consistently every year for the last 30 years,” said Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, when addressing members of the media at a welcome breakfast at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort and Spa. “It grew 12.1 percent last year and brought in 500,000 new visitors, earning an increase of half a billion dollars. It’s on the path to be the biggest GDP contributor for Jamaica.”
Within the first seven to eight months of 2018, Jamaica's tourism grew 5.4 percent over last year, with 2.9 million visitors. And the country shows no signs of slowing down its development, finding new ways to remain relevant to travelers who continue to come year after year. The tourism board also consistently has its sights set on travelers who have not yet visited Jamaica. For this, the tourism board is relying heavily on travel agents.
“Our goal is to see 2,000 agents by the end of this month,” said Donnie Dawson, deputy director of tourism, sales USA, who is referring to Jamaica Tourist Board’s media tours that will be taking place throughout the U.S.
Hotel DevelopmentOmar Robinson, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, briefed the group on some of the new openings and developments to be happening across the country.
In Montego Bay, Sandals Montego Bay and Sandals Royal Caribbean are both planning renovations. Half Moon is currently in the midst of a $75 million renovation, as well.
Earlier this summer, Excellence Oyster Bay opened as the first resort for Excellence Group Luxury Hotels & Resorts in Jamaica — the first of many, as the company is planning 10 to 12 properties in Mexico and the Caribbean across the next five years.
Crissa Hotels will be bringing S Hotel Jamaica to Montego Bay later this fall, with a Miami-chic vibe that is similar to a Mondrian for millennials. Agents should expect high ceilings, murals, photo montages, subterranean plunge pools and a Sky Deck Bar, as well as record players in each of the guestrooms.
We build relationships across borders. We glorify diversity, embrace differences and see only people — what a wonderful culture tourism is.
Kevin Froemming, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Playa Hotels & Resorts, spoke briefly about Playa's expansion in Jamaica and its recent partnership with Hilton. The company will oversee Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa’s extensive renovations, which are to start next year. Playa also has plans to open a Panama Jack resort in Montego Bay by 2020.
Looking to 2021, Jamaica intends to add 7,500 new rooms to its inventory — including 1,100 rooms at a new Hard Rock Hotel, which will open along the beach corridor in Rose Hall. Half Moon's renovation will see the addition of 75 villas, and there are expansion proposals for Jewel Grande, which has committed to 750 rooms by early 2021.Sandals Resorts has plans for a newbuild resort in Dragon Bay, and H10 Hotels is in the final stage of development plans for 750 rooms in Trelawny.
Building New MarketsIn the quest to bring new blood to Jamaica's shores, the tourism board has several initiatives underway.
The first is the expansion of Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, and the proposed expansion of Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston. The expansions will have new capabilities for connectivity in the Americas, Eastern Europe and Asia. Additionally, the runway at Sangster is currently being widened to facilitate Boeing 747s, and the customs and immigration areas will be expanded with automated immigration arrangements.
Also coming is a new highway between Kingston and Port Antonio. The project will begin next year and be completed in early 2020.
The Jamaica Tourist Board is also looking to create a new destination within St. Thomas Parish, which lies opposite the Blue Mountains from Kingston.
“We build relationships across borders," Bartlett said. “We glorify diversity, embrace differences and see only people — what a wonderful culture tourism is. Within the next two years Jamaica will be fully connected by land, sea and air. We will enable a seamlessness that will allow visitors to get to their desired places in the shortest possible time.”
The DetailsExcellence Oyster Baywww.excellenceresorts.com
Jamaica Tourist Boardwww.jtbonline.org
Playa Hotels & Resortswww.playaresorts.com