BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment email@example.com
KINGSTON hotels are reporting a renewed interest in the city as more vacationing tourists are opting to night-over in the island's capital to explore the heritage tourism offerings.
Operators of major properties in the city said this was even more evident from the brisk business they did with overseas tour companies at the recently concluded Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), which was held at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Hotel in Ocho Rios, St Ann.
Concerns about crime, which have previously stifled the growth of tourism in Kingston, has also been abated.
Nicola Madden-Gregg, area chair of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Kingston Chapter and group director of marketing and sales at The Courtleigh Hotel & Suites, believes that recent sales blitz in Canada as well as a major familiarisation trip to Kingston have contributed to the renewed interest.
"A lot of the concerns that people had about crime in Kingston is off the front burner as people are realising that Kingston is a different experience and so they want to go," she told the Jamaica Observer.
She explained that meetings were held with various players in the JHTA's membership and the Resort Board to encourage persons to improve the offerings in Kingston.
As more tourists develop greater interest in cultural events, Madden-Gregg pointed to a historic tour of the University of the West Indies, which has been well received by visitors.
President of the JHTA, Evelyn Smith said Kingston has done a good job in showcasing the cultural and historical side of Jamaica.
Jamaica Pegasus Hotel's sales director, Prudence Simpson said that dot-com sites are now showing an interest in selling packages for Kingston properties.
"A few years ago, they would say 'we don't do Kingston', but now everyone wants to sell it," Simpson said.
As such, she said, a number of day tours are on offer so tourists can be transported from the other resort towns into the capital city.
"We usually bring them in for a night or so for them to do the Bob Marley museum, a sporting event or any other cultural event," she explained, noting tourists have become more of Jamaica's diversity.
Meanwhile, meeting service manager at Wyndham Kingston Hotel, Kerida Simms said many of its overseas partners want to organise leisure tours to venues such as the Bob Marley Museum and Port Royal. She said the interest is mainly from partners in Canadian and to some extent, Latin American.
"I met with someone (a buyer) today who wants to bring tourists from Russia to Kingston," Simms disclosed.
Lee-Ann Godfrey, general manager at Spanish Court Hotel, said tour operators from different markets, among them Japan and Latin America, have also expressed a desire to send tourists to Kingston. She said apart from the promotions in Canada by the JHTA and the Jamaica Tourist Board, Westjet's flight from Canada to Kingston may have also contributed to the bounce.
"Persons can now do a package where they can fly into Kingston then go elsewhere to continue their vacation," she said.
She added that vacationers have become more interested in cultural sites such as Devon House, the National Art Gallery and the Bob Marley Museum, among others.
Martin Smith, general manager of Hotel Four Seasons, said the interest generated at this year's JAPEX was one of the strongest to date.
Similar sentiments were shared by Maurice Bryan, sales manager at The Courtleigh Hotel.
"Kingston is a spot not sold naturally to travel agents, but we are now trying to push a town-and-country spin on things," he said, adding that his property has been tailoring its product to meet the needs of these short-stay vacationers.