JAMAICA’S tourism sector has grown by 2.4 per cent so far this year over the same period last year despite a sluggish start and the negative effects of Hurricane Sandy and the presidential election in the United States.
This was revealed by Tourism Minister Dr Wykeham McNeill who said Jamaica recorded 100,000 visitor arrivals in the month of September for the first time in its history.
“This year we have done reasonably well. We started off with a little difficulty — January was three per cent down. We have been positive more or less going through,” Dr McNeill told the weekly Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange yesterday.
He said this year’s showing was an improvement for the sector which grew by 1.6 per cent in 2011. The minister pointed to the US presidential elections and super storm Sandy as major factors affecting growth in the hospitality sector.
“You have to take into account that we had presidential elections in the United States this year, which always has a negative effect on your arrivals, and we also had Sandy,” Dr McNeill stated.
He said Sandy, which made landfall in Jamaica as a category one hurricane on October 24, resulted in 32 flights out of the island being cancelled before it became a super storm and devastated parts of the United States north-east coast.
While visitor arrivals were down slightly by 0.8 per cent in October, the months of May and June were particularly good for the sector, growing by eight per cent and nine per cent respectively over 2011, Dr McNeill said.
He expressed optimism that the growth will continue next year, based on advertising and the visits of leading travel agents to the island.
However, he was cautious in making “grandiose predictions” for the year ahead based on the effect of the ongoing recession on the US and United Kingdom markets, as well as on the rest of Europe.
Tourism Director John Lynch agreed, but was confident that the winter season, which starts on December 15, will prove good for Jamaica.
“We expect to have a successful winter season and we have done quite a lot of leg work,” he said. “We brought in a lot of travel agents from North America and just had a big group coming out of Germany.
“We have moved to diversify our source market as we have seen the difficulty when one market develops a cold we get pneumonia.”