Feature
An aerial view of Hotel Riu Palace Jamaica in Montego Bay, one of several Spanish hotels on the island.
Photo: Contributed Photo

Jamaica, once a playground for the rich and famous, has grown to become a premier destination for tourists over the last 60 years, offering a variety of options for stay when one chooses the island for a vacation or to celebrate important milestones in their lives.

Booking a room at an all-inclusive hotel, villa, guest house, or Airbnb, is among the choices available to the discerning visitor.

Prior to 1890 when the Jamaica Hotels Law was passed, the tourism industry was not as organised as it is today.

Visitors had very few options for accommodation, as the industry at that time was largely comprised of lodging houses and inns.

In fact, Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, tells JIS News that the country’s tourism industry began as a “very informal activity with absentee proprietors and/or wealthy Jamaicans establishing cottages, second homes, holiday homes that provided a place for friends and family to have entertainment and or to enjoy their vacations”.

The passing of the Hotels Law in 1890 spurred the development of the industry and saw hotels being constructed in Kingston, Spanish Town, Moneague, Mandeville and Port Antonio. The most famous of these were Titchfield in Port Antonio and Myrtle Bank in Kingston.

These early hotels were developed to facilitate the influx of visitors that were expected in the island for the Jamaica International Exhibition planned for 1891.

Minister Bartlett informs that as the years progressed and the country gained its Independence in August 1962, more people started travelling to Jamaica.

Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett (centre), welcomes Darnel Williams (second left) and her children, 12-month-old Keon and five-year-old Keona Francis. Ms. Williams was the one- millionth visitor to arrive in the island following the reopening of the country’s borders to international travel after being closed for three months due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Sharing in the moment (from left) are Chief Executive Officer of MBJ Limited, Shane Monroe; Regional Commercial Director, Blue Diamonds Resorts, Kerry Ann Quallo-Casserly; and President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Clifton Reader.

 

This, he says, resulted in the emergence of hotels on the North Coast in Montego Bay, Negril and Ocho Rios.

“Then, there came a strong wave of hotel development in the late 90s into the 2000s, when there was this surge of Spanish development, bringing large mega hotels in excess of 500 rooms and some over 1,000 rooms,” Minister Bartlett adds.

Presently, Jamaica is home to more than 35,000 hotels, villas and condominiums, which accommodate a large flow of visitors from various parts of the world.

“We were able to move from a country where less than 100,000 people were visiting to one where 4.3 million people visited,” says Minister Bartlett, adding that the country moved from earning a little over US$100,000 per year in foreign exchange to now earning US$3.7 billion.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), the agency responsible for marketing the country’s tourism product, John Lynch, recalls the construction of the Holiday Inn Hotel in Montego Bay in the 1970s.

“I can remember it was a 558-room hotel and it signalled a different era in Jamaica’s tourism. We started attracting groups, conventions and that sort of market,” shares Mr. Lynch, adding that Intercontinental Hotels, now Hilton Hotels, later emerged on the scene, with properties in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Kingston.

More recently, destination Jamaica welcomed the ROK Hotel to the country’s capital. The new 12-storey hotel which is part of the Tapestry Collection by Hilton was officially opened on July 19, adding another set of rooms to accommodate visitors.

In addition to the increase in construction of hotels due to the large number of visitor arrivals, especially from the country’s main source markets – United Kingdom, United States of America and Canada – Jamaica’s tourism industry has also contributed to advances in other areas in the economy.

The industry became a big employer, employing some 170,000 people directly and approximately 350,000 indirectly. Other sectors such as manufacturing, agriculture and entertainment have also been boosted by tourism.

The overall service sector saw more restaurants being established to fill the need for a culinary experience outside of the hotels.

Several attractions were also developed or expanded over the years, including Mystic Mountain, Dolphin Cove, Rick’s Café, the world-famous Dunn’s River Falls and Park among others.

In further reflecting on the transformation of the tourism industry since Independence, Minister Bartlett notes that the physical profile of the sector has also changed, thereby lifting the quality of life and standard of living for residents in the areas where tourism has flourished.

“Sixty years ago, Ocho Rios was a sleepy little fishing village. Today it’s a bustling centre of commercial activity and a driver of foreign exchange and jobs. Montego Bay was another fishing village, today it is the largest and most significant tourism destination in the English-speaking Caribbean and arguably the largest driver of jobs and foreign exchange in Jamaica,” says Minister Bartlett.

Montego Bay and Ocho Rios are among the country’s six resort areas. The others being Negril, Port Antonio, Kingston and the south coast, which is comprised of the parishes of St. Elizabeth, Manchester and Clarendon.

Access to Jamaica, through its various airports and seaports have also been enhanced over the past 60 years. The country’s gateways have seen their fair share of improvement and expansion.

Jamaica has moved from having small air strips to having three international airports – Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston and the Ian Fleming International Airport in Boscobel, St. Mary, close to the Ocho Rios resort area.

An aerial view of the Ian Fleming International Airport in Boscobel, St. Mary

 

The Ian Fleming airport recently welcomed its first scheduled commercial flight from Providenciales, Turks and Caicos (PLS), via Inter Caribbean Airways. Come November, American Airlines, under its American Eagle regional brand, will operate non-stop flights from Miami in the United States to the airport.

Additionally, the destination is easily accessible by cruise passengers through ports in Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Falmouth, Port Antonio, and Kingston. These five cruise ports are equipped to handle colossal passenger ships and boutique yachts.

Jamaica’s tourism sector has been on growth trajectory since the country became an independent nation.

Although, the industry has been hit by several disruptions over the years, including an oil crisis, Hurricane Gilbert, and more recently the COVID-19 pandemic, the tourism sector has remained resilient.

It continues to attract visitors and contribute significantly towards the economy.

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