The Norman Manley International Airport (NMIA) in Kingston on April 30 welcomed its first WestJet international flight from Toronto, Canada, with 136 passengers onboard.
The Boeing 737 Next-Generation aircraft landed at approximately 12:05 p.m. to applause and cheers from the welcome party, headed by Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeil, which witnessed its arrival from the NMIA’s Upper Passenger Pier.
The Canadian carrier, which flies from Toronto to Sangster International in Montego Bay, St. James, will now have three weekly flights to Kingston on Monday, Friday and Saturday, making it a total of 10 weekly flights to both airports.
The Minister, in his address at the brief welcome ceremony, noted that the entrance of WestJet into Kingston represents another step towards re-branding and building the capital city as a prime tourist destination.
“One of the very encouraging things about this flight is the fact that onboard the plane are travel agents, who will be doing a familiarisation trip and looking at Kingston, Port Antonio and Ocho Rios and what possibilities exist in opening up those markets,” he informed.
Dr. McNeil noted that WestJet is “a very important carrier” to Jamaica, with as many as 27 flights into the island during the winter tourist season. “WestJet is a tried and tested partner for us in the Ministry of Tourism. We look forward to a long and strong partnership,” he said.
Minister without portfolio for Transport, Works and Housing, Hon. Dr. Morias Guy, pointed out that despite global economic challenges, flights between Toronto and Kingston have been growing in recent years.
“This growth was again demonstrated in the last quarter, January to March 2012, when the route saw an increase of over five per cent over the same period last year and there are strong indications that this trend will continue,” he said.
Dr. Guy noted that the decision by WestJet to flight to Kingston comes at a time when Jamaica will be welcoming overseas nationals and visitors for the 50th year of Independence celebrations.
“This new route also signals the building of better connectivity between the two cities, and an expansion of opportunities for Jamaicans living in Canada to return home in a convenient manner and time, and to partner with us in building this great nation,” he said.
Mayor of Kingston and St. Andrew, Councillor Angela Brown-Burke, also welcomed WestJet into Kingston, noting that the airline will not only bring nationals home for ‘Jamaica 50’ but also for the City of Kingston’s 140th anniversary events.
Acting Vice-President, Guest Services, WestJet, Mark Brown said the airline’s culture is “a very perfect match for the warm and caring culture of the Jamaican people”.
“When people ask me why they should travel to Jamaica, I tell them ‘well the beaches of course, and the tourism events, but to me, what’s more important is the people’,” he remarked. He noted that there are indeed many countries with beautiful beaches and great tourist attractions “but the people, the smiles, the warmth is what sets Jamaica apart”.
Mr. Brown said that as Kingston becomes WestJet’s 72nd destination, he looks forward to great successes and a long lasting relationship.
By Athaliah Reynolds-Baker, JIS Reporter