Ja welcomes 2 million stopover visitors for the first time in a year
MONTEGO BAY, St James — Jamaica welcomed two million stopover visitors for the first time in one year yesterday, a milestone that Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill said had its foundation in work done as far back as the 1990s.
American newly-weds Craig and Alexis Grenier made up the spectacular figure as they arrived on American Airlines flight 380 about 3:50 pm at the Sangster International Airport in this city regarded as Jamaica's tourism capital.
The couple was met by a welcoming party that included Minister McNeill, his junior minister Damion Crawford, Montego Bay Mayor Glendon Harris, Tourism Director John Lynch, and other key players in the tourism sector.
Noting that a decade ago Jamaica also celebrated the arrival of two million cruise passengers, Dr McNeill hailed hotel developers for establishing the destination as an international brand.
"In reaching these milestone achievements, the industry (has) seen Jamaica establish itself as a major centre of hotel development, to the extent that our hotel developers have been successful at developing international brands that have driven growth here at home and in several other places in the region," Dr McNeill said during a welcome reception for the couple.
He said that the groundwork for the current success was laid from as early as the 1990s when there was a intensive push to attract hotel investment, accompanied by massive infrastructure development.
"A major thrust to attract hotel investment in the 1990s, underpinned by unprecedented public sector investment in infrastructure, produced a burgeoning growth in our room inventory. New brands, many of them from Spain, joined the sector, broadening our appeal and adding to our marketing muscle," an elated Dr McNeill said.
Josef Forstmayr, chairman of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, also welcomed the couple and said that the two-million stopover visitor achievement was long overdue.
"This is a great milestone. We have been anticipating the arrival of our two millionth visitor for quite a few years. Finally, it has all come together. The new investment in hotel rooms, the new investment in airlift into the island have finally produced what we have been anticipating for a few years," Forstmayr told the Jamaica Observer.
"We hope we will now continue on the path of growth, and with more investment in our tourism infrastructure new hotels and rehabilitated hotels," he added.
An equally excited Elizabeth Brown Scotton, chief commercial officer at MBJ Airports Limited, which operates the Sangster Airport, said Jamaica continues to record growth.
"I am very happy to report that we have been seeing double-digit growth ever since August of this year. I have seen the most growth in single months that I have ever seen since the six-and-a-half years I have been living in Jamaica and have been in this role for MBJ," Brown Scotton told the Observer.
"We should be seeing 3.6 million passengers in and out the international airport in 2014. We think that all that is happening because of the strength of this destination, the investment of the new hotels in particular, and the strength that we have at the airport in the way that we focus on our operations," she said.
Dr McNeill expressed confidence that the growth will continue into next year.
"As we enter 2014 on the wave of a highly successful year in tourism, we shall be moving aggressively to harness even more the power of this industry to drive growth in other sectors, by forging stronger and deeper linkages with tourism," the minister said.
"We will also continue our thrust into new markets, while working to build even greater momentum in our traditional markets."
Mayor Harris, in his comments, expressed pride at the achievement.