The Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment embarked on a series of activities, during the first 100 days of portfolio Minister, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill’s tenure, aimed at further boosting visitor arrivals.
These came against the background of global developments which impacted the tourism sector of several countries around the world, including the small island Caribbean states, such as Jamaica.
Speaking at a Jamaica House media briefing in February, Dr. McNeill advised that the country’s 2011/12 tourist season is expected to close out with a 1.7 per cent increase in visitor arrivals, over the previous year. This projection came, even as he highlighted what he said were challenges impacting the industry, particularly between May 2011 and January this year.
The Minister pointed out that, for the most part, stopover arrivals remained relatively flat for the period, experiencing growth in only three of the months, which amounted to an overall 0.8 decrease.
Factors, which he said were attributable to this, included: a slowdown in the economic recovery in Jamaica’s main tourism markets, namely: the United States, Canada and Europe; and a decrease in airlift capacity, especially out of the north east United States.
“During this period, too, there were several mergers of major airlines, which have consolidated their routes, resulting in loss of seats,” the Minister said.
He also cited the recent Airport Passenger Duty (APD), applied by the United Kingdom and resulting in increased travel costs, as also affecting arrival figures and continuing to hamper efforts to improve on this.
In light of this, Dr. McNeill announced that the Ministry would be pursuing a number of actions to address these developments. These include: a Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) led television advertising campaign in the United States and Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The initiatives also saw Jamaica participating in the annual regional travel show, Caribbean marketplace, while the JTB took the promotion campaign to the International Tourism Convention, the world’s largest travel show, which was held in Berlin, Germany.
Meanwhile, as part of the Ministry’s efforts to boost airlifts, particularly out of the North East tri-state area of the United States, encompassing New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, Tourism Director, John Lynch, participated in the Fifth Routes Americas Conference in Nassau, Bahamas, in February.
The conference brought together all of the major airlines and key tourism stakeholders from the Caribbean, and North, Central, and South America, to plan their deployments for the ensuing year. Dr. McNeill also advised that the Ministry would be having discussions with officials in Germany and Russia regarding airlift prospects out of those European countries.
Mr. Lynch informed that the Ministry also has plans in place to grow airlifts out of a number of non-traditional areas, such as Latin America. Additionally, the Ministry will seek to tap into the Texan market in the United States, and has settled a contract with a Texas-based charter company for flights from Dallas to Montego Bay for 10 weeks out of the year.
On the local front, Dr McNeill announced that 457 rooms had been brought back on stream with the re-opening of the former Hedonism III and Braco hotels.
This was complemented by the re-opening, in March, of the popular and breathtaking Lover’s Leap attraction in St. Elizabeth, which was closed for almost two years. He noted that, while providing employment, particularly for young people in Treasure Beach and surrounding communities, the attraction also enhanced the tourism offerings in the area.
“With these moves, we are hoping to see positive effects on our arrivals and the Director of Tourism has indicated that given the figures, we are arresting the downward turn,” Dr. McNeill stated.