Chinese tourist arrivals to Jamaica takes No 1 spot out of Asia
A record number of Chinese visitors came to the island over the first three months of 2014 resulting in that country usurping Japan as the key source market from Asia for the first time.
The growth trend is likely to continue with the announcement in February of the removal of visa requirements for Chinese visitors.
It meant that Chinese stopovers at 664 visitors actually outnumbered arrivals from Japan at 643.
The numbers are small as a percentage of total arrivals, but the economic importance of China (the world's second largest economy) to the island in relation to mega projects puts weight on these numbers.
Also, the number of arrivals from China was up one-third year on year and nearly double that of 2012.
Visitors from Japan (the world's fourth largest economy) engage in business, volunteerism and culture.
However, Japanese arrivals for much of the last two decades have remained flat based on an austere economy and an established reggae culture in Japan.
China's main interest in Jamaica relates to construction and agricutlural projects.
However, the Government wants more Chinese as tourists within the context that China spends the most globally on international tourism.
In February, Government announced that Chinese nationals can visit Jamaica as tourists for up to 30 days without a visa.
"This administration recognises Chinese potential for growth as a tourism market in Jamaica, but also recognises the difficulties entailed in developing it," according to quotes attributed to Minister of Information, Sandrea Falconer while announcing the visa relaxation.
Falconer lamented that many Chinese nationals have had to travel great distances to obtain a visa from Jamaican Embassy in Beijing. Visa requirements were also relaxed for Colombia, Panama, Venezuela, Ukraine and the Czech Republic, among others.
The modern relationship between the governments of China and Jamaica reached a symbolic cresendo in 2005 with the official visit of then vice-president of China Zen Qinghong.
He remains to date the highest official to visit the island from that country. The trip coincided with the China-Caribbean Economic and Trade Cooperation Forum and Business Conference, and also the China-Caribbean Trade Fair.
The trip also resulted in Jamaica getting approved destination status from the Chinese Government.
Despite the stamp of approval it resulted in little movement of Chinese tourists to the island at that time, data indicated.
Just under one million visitors came to the island over the first three months of 2014, or 2.4 less than a year earlier due to a dip in cruise arrivals. Arrivals by plane which earn the country more remained flat over the review period. But arrivals from the main source markets of US were down 3.2 per cent.
"The decreases in total visitors and cruise passengers were primarily due to the decline in calls to the ports of Montego Bay and Ocho Rios," stated the Jamaica Government Annual Report posted to the US Securities and Commission recently.
In 2013, the tourism industry earned some US$2 billion in foreign exchange, which represented 59.5 per cent of gross foreign exchange earnings from the productive sector last year, excluding remittance inflows.
Total visitor arrivals hit 3.27 million in 2013 or one per cent less than a year earlier.