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Hotels brace for Sandy fall-off

Hurricane damage in US could hurt Jamaica

BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment browni@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 30, 2012    

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THE Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) is bracing for a fall-off in visitors from the United States in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s effect on sections of that country’s East Coast.

A significant number of stopover visitors to Jamaica are from the US northeast market. Of the 3.07 million stopover arrivals to the island last year, Jamaica Tourist Board figures showed that 550,205 were from that region.

President of the JHTA Evelyn Smith told the Jamaica Observer yesterday that local hoteliers were closely monitoring the effects of the storm on the US cities as major damage to these markets could have serious implications, even for the upcoming winter tourist season which begins on December 15.

“... It is clear already that this hurricane will have an economic impact on the sector,” Smith told the Observer.

Yesterday, several flights in and out of the resort city of Montego as well as the Jamaican capital, Kingston, were cancelled as the storm bore down on Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.

Sandy forced the shutdown of mass transit, schools and financial markets in the United States, while sending coastal residents fleeing for higher ground because of a mix of high winds, heavy rain and a surging wall of water up to 11 feet tall.

Smith, meanwhile, explained that if Americans suffer serious damage from the hurricane they could think twice about going on a vacation, but this would be dependent on whether they were forced to pay a penalty for cancelling their hotel bookings.

She noted further that the closure of airports in Philadelphia and New York — two of the sector’s major feeder markets — has significantly impacted a number of guests who were scheduled to arrive here yesterday.

“Pennsylvania is one of the states which has been doing very well for Jamaica as US Airways feeds out of that area,” Smith said. The impact, she added, has been two-way with some visitors not being able to leave Jamaica as all flights into Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York were cancelled yesterday and this could continue into today.

The JHTA head said individual hotels have been giving guests discounts for the extended stay, while some persons have relocated to less expensive accommodations.

Hoteliers, she said, are closely monitoring the situation to determine their next move should the situation prolong. “We will be monitoring after the storm passes and may discuss and make recommendation to members but it will be an individual property decision as to what happens with their guests,” Smith said.

Occupancy levels in the island’s hotels was about 55 per cent, according to Smith, who noted that this varied from property to property. “Some properties will have 100 per cent occupancy, at this time, while some have 80 per cent and some 20 per cent,” Smith said.

She said, however, that the delay in visitors leaving the island would not impact the number of available rooms for incoming guests.

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