Jamaica on target to make stopover history
BY INGRID BROWN Associate Editor - Special Assignment email@example.com
THIS year is shaping up to be the best in the history of stopover arrivals, with preliminary figures suggesting that Jamaica could welcome more than two million visitors to the island by the end of the year, according to Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill.
"The 15th (today) is the start of the season but if we continue tracking at that pace, as we are doing now, we will have a landmark year as for the first time in history we would surpass two million stopover visitors for 2013," McNeill told editors and reporters at the Jamaica Observer Press Club held at the newspaper's head offices in St Andrew on Thursday.
McNeill stated that preliminary figures for October were showing an 11.2 per cent increase in tourist arrivals while November ended with an eight per cent hike. August also ended on a high with a 4.1 per cent increase, followed by a one per cent increase in September.
These figures, McNeill said, are particularly encouraging given that approximately 10 per cent or 2,000 rooms were out of commission during this period.
According to McNeill, Jamaica is ahead of regional counterparts where figures reflect declines for a number of other tourist destinations since the start of the year. The figures, he reported, showed that stopover arrivals for Bahamas declined by 7.3 per cent between January to August. Barbados experienced a 6.2 per cent decline from January to September; Antigua 5.4 per cent up to July; and a 1.3 per cent for Cuba.
Meanwhile, the tourism minister said that despite a challenging 2012/2013 winter season, the sector experienced a bumper summer which ended with a three per cent increase in stopover visitors.
In addition to "great marketing", McNeill attributes the strong airlift out of Canada and a swell in the United Kingdom (UK) markets among the factors which contributed to a good summer.
The tourism minister was equally optimistic about the UK market, which he said has seen growth after years of decline.
This growth, he said, can be attributed to the spinoff from Jamaica's presence at the London Olympics in 2011.
"For a number of years we have had negative growth out of the UK, which has been an issue; especially last year with the Olympics we went in and had some discussion with our partners and in that discussion the head of Virgin Holidays did say we would see a (Usain) Bolt bounce," he said.
McNeill said that his team also used the London visit to meet with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, resulting in both airlines increasing their flights to the island.
Europe's largest tour operator, Tui, under a partnership with Jamaica, also increased flights to the island.
"What we have now is that after four years of negative growth, this year we are up 4.7 per cent out of the UK for January to October," McNeill said.
Another positive, he noted is that Tui is not only increasing its flights but was coming to Jamaica to work with investors.
"Next year for the winter season they (Tui) are going to bring in a cruise line to Jamaica and will be home porting in Montego Bay," McNeill said.
"They will also do another stop, so persons will land in Jamaica, get on the ship, cruise to wherever and on the way back, stop in Falmouth and from there come back over to Montego Bay the following day," the minister stated.
This, he noted, will be of significant benefit to Jamaica as a number of these visitors are expected to stay in hotels for at least a week.
Director of Tourism John Lynch explained that the real benefit of this Tui partnership is that between 30 and 40 per cent of those passengers will convert to hotel stays.
"There is going to be a commingling of all 10 flights that is the real benefit, plus the opportunity to supply goods and services to the ship, plus that overnighting in Falmouth," he told the Press Club.
The produce that the cruise ship visitors will consume on board, according to McNeill, will also be a major part of the process.
"We are really pushing the whole linkages issue so that we can earn more and keep the earnings here," he said.