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More British visitors expected this year, says McNeill

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

Tuesday, October 02, 2012    

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OCHO RIOS, St Ann — Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill has assured local tourism interests that increased bookings from the United Kingdom (UK) will cushion the likely decrease in visitors from the United States due to the presidential elections.

Americans traditionally stay closer to home for presidential elections, scheduled for November 6. But the Jamaican tourism minister had good news yesterday for tourism players who are concerned about the likely fall-off in American visitors.

"...There is even better news, as just recently our regional office in the UK advised us that TUI (an international tour company) is reporting that bookings to Jamaica, in recent weeks, have been impressive," McNeill said yesterday.

The minister, who was addressing members of the local and foreign media at a Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) breakfast meeting at Jewel Dunn's River Beach Resort & Spa in Ocho Rios yesterday, said reports out of leisure and travel group Thomas Cook were that they were sold out for this summer. Next summer, he said, has gone from trading behind 18 per cent to pacing 45 per cent ahead in the last four weeks.

"Virgin Holidays says bookings for Jamaica is now trading up eight per cent though it was previously pacing at seven per cent down," McNeill said.

A September 28 report in the UK's Daily Mirror indicated that the Olympic and world record holder Usain Bolt "has given a turbo boost to winter holidays in Jamaica".

Quoting TUI Travel, the article said that "bookings for Usain Bolt's home country, its Caribbean neighbours the Dominican Republic and Mexico drove a 14 per cent rise in winter bookings".

The article further noted that TUI "sold most of its 2012 summer holidays and had solid late bookings, helping it to avoid price cuts".

The tourism minister has confirmed that the

post-Olympic airlift out of the United Kingdom has already started to see the effects of what has been coined the 'Bolt Bounce'.

McNeill said preliminary discussions were held earlier this year with Virgin to secure an additional flight in the winter tourist season, which runs from December 15 to April, to provide 17,000 additional seats.

However, following discussions in London during the Olympics, McNeill said the airline has agreed to provide a year-round flight which will instead provide some 25,000 new seats.

He announced that TUI has also finalised an extra fortnightly flight for the winter to Montego Bay and weekly flights in the summer from Gatwick, Manchester and Birmingham which will add 11,000 new seats.

Meanwhile, the minister said there was a 2.4 per cent increase in stopover arrivals between January and August, while there has been a 33.9 per cent in cruise ship passengers.

"We have been performing very well during September and preliminary figures indicate an increase of five per cent for September 1 to 27," he disclosed.

He said Jamaica continues to remove the barriers to travel from the Latin American markets while working to increase airlift from these countries. This process, he said, has already started with the revision of visa requirements for persons from Latin American countries. A one-year extension has been secured on the visa waivers for persons from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama.

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