THE typical European visitor to Jamaica no longer speaks German.
French tourists now account for the largest group from continental Europe, reflecting a shift that has balanced declines in other markets.
France grabbed the top spot from Germany this year and also became Jamaica’s fourth largest source market globally. French arrivals on the island from January to May totalled 9,000, compared to 8,500 Germans and 4,500 Italians.
It’s significant, as four years ago, France was ranked seventh from Europe and 11th globally — not even in the top 10.
In fact, the French growth allowed total arrivals from Europe between January to May to inch up 0.9 per cent over last year, according to the latest monthly data from the Jamaica Tourist Board.
“I think there has been a lot of documentaries in France on Jamaica, which has sparked interest in the island,” indicated Muna Lobé, a French expatriate, when quizzed by Caribbean Business Report on Wednesday about the growth trend.
“Also, a lot more French are speaking English and are more comfortable travelling to English speaking islands,” she reasoned
The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) says that increased airlift allowed that affinity to the island to translate into arrivals. “What helped is that there was an operator in France that started selling Jamaica. That’s a new development, and they organised charters to Jamaica,” stated Evelyn Smith, JHTA president.
Arrivals from the United Kingdom (not part of continental Europe) continue to lead total European arrivals at 57,000. Concurrently, another non-traditional source market, Russia, continues to rise fast and now halves French arrivals.
“Looking at the European markets, they have an affinity for Jamaica whether it be reggae or the culture. So they already have the desire to come. What was missing was the airlift,” stated Smith.
Conversely, the markets of Southern Europe are severely down, with arrivals from Spain and Portugal at 815 and 94 respectively, between January and May. It represents a fouryear decline in those markets of 50 per cent and 96 per cent respectively.
Smith said the fall-off in the two Mediterranean territories reflects the economic austerity in that region. That resulted in Spanish tour operators pulling charter flights to the island, she highlighted.
Jamaica earned US$2 billion from tourism arrivals in 2012, roughly a two per cent increase year on year, according to the Annual Travel Statistics published by the Jamaica Tourist Board.
Visitor arrivals by air and sea hit a record 3.3 million in 2012, up 7.4 per cent year over year, according to the data. Most of the growth, however, came from an increase in cruise passenger arrivals, up 17 per cent, fuelled by the island’s newest port, Falmouth Cruise Pier.