Tourism set for Strong 2007 Performance


Jamaica’s tourism sector is gearing up to post an impressive performance in 2007, fuelled by strong occupancy numbers, increasing length of stay by the average visitor, growth in arrivals from most markets, rising total earnings and with earnings per tourist at record levels.
At present, the island’s tourism sector is reporting a sharp increase in earnings spurred by increased arrivals from most of the country’s major markets and increased length of stay at hotels and other types of accommodation.
The latest data from the Bank of Jamaica show earnings from the tourism sector at US$161.5 million in January 2007, up from US$151.5 million in the similar period last year. This came in spite of a 0.7 per cent reduction in stop-over arrivals during this period.
What this means is that Jamaica earned more revenue from each tourist who visited the island. This is in keeping with what happened last year when earnings from the tourism sector rose 24 per cent in response to a 15 per cent increase in arrivals.
The sharp increase in earnings per visitor comes as the country continues to enjoy strong increases in arrivals from the overwhelming majority of its markets. Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) statistics show arrivals from Canada during the January to March 2007 period rising 32.8 per cent. Arrivals from Europe were up 15.7 per cent, with the United Kingdom, Spain and Portugal showing particularly impressive numbers.
Stop over visitors from the United Kingdom rose 18.2 per cent during the first three months of this year, while arrivals from Portugal were up 355 per cent, albeit from a low base figure.
The situation with Spain is particularly interesting. With Spanish hotel groups investing billions of dollars in the tourism sector in recent years, the expectation has always been that arrivals from that European market were always set to soar. The reality has borne out the expectations with arrivals from Spain up 252 per cent so far this year, after rising 40 per cent in 2006.
Together, the number of visitors from Spain and Portugal is equivalent to only 1 per cent of the total arrivals from the USA, Jamaica’s most important market. However, with arrivals from these Southern European countries rising at a much faster pace, their importance will rival more entrenched markets, such as the United Kingdom and Canada in less than a decade.
Already, the island is feeling the impact of a greater number of European visitors with the average length of each visit inching forward, translating into millions of dollars in additional revenue and employment. The average length of stay rose 3 per cent during the first three months of this year. This means that on average, each visitor spent more money on food, accommodation and entertainment.
It is this combination of a more diversified market and increased length of stay that has allowed the Jamaica tourism sector to withstand the 12.1 per cent decline in arrivals from the USA during the first three months of 2007. With the USA accounting for more than 60 per cent of total arrivals, the net result was a 2.1 per cent fall in arrivals during the first quarter of this year.
Analysts point to the new passport requirement introduced by the US Government in January this year as a major factor behind this decline. However, the US State Department says it expects passport applications to hit 17 million this year, up from 12.1 million in 2006 and 10.1 million the previous year. The previous record of 7.3 million was set in 2000.
Notwithstanding the possible impact of the new passport law under what is called the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative, data from the Jamaica Tourist Board point to a far more likely cause for the decline in arrivals from the USA.
The ‘Spring Break’ market saw a downturn where Jamaica is concerned, with the age group 18 to 24 years suffering a 14 per cent decline in January to March 2007, when compared to the similar period in 2006. At the same time, there was an increase of 6 per cent among those aged 50 to 64 years and a 10 per cent increase among those 65 years and over. While the sector embraced spring breakers in the past in order to keep hotel rooms filled in the latter weeks of the winter tourist season, spring breakers have never really been a profitable market.
With hotel rooms still reporting strong occupancy numbers, the actual length of stay on the rise, arrivals up in most markets, total earnings continuing to rise and earnings per tourist at record levels, the tourism sector is set to register a another stellar performance in 2007.

JIS Social