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Miami comes calling Famous US city wants more Jamaicans to visit

Famous US city wants more Jamaicans to visit

Executive editor – publications

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Officials of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau (GMCVB) are now in the island making a destination push for the city located at the south-eastern tip of Florida that has been popular among Jamaicans for decades.

Approximately 20 travel agents in Kingston yesterday attended a presentation at the Courtyard by Marriott hotel where Joe Docal, the GMCVB's director of travel industry sales, Latin America and the Caribbean, supported by Petra Brennan, the bureau's senior manager, programme development multicultural tourism and development, talked up the city which, in the 1970s, was dubbed “Kingston 21” due to the number of Jamaicans who fled there as the island's two major political parties engaged in a bitter ideological battle that turned violent.

“We're taking this opportunity to update the travel agents in Kingston to support the destination because Jamaica is a very important market for us,” Docal told the Jamaica Observer a few minutes before addressing the travel agents.

Jamaica, he said, is among Miami's top 25 visitor markets and is the second highest provider of visitors from the Caribbean. The Bahamas is the top provider, while the Dominican Republic ranks third.

“Last year we had a little over 183,000 Jamaicans coming to Miami, and that's not based on people coming through the airport, because Miami is a hub, it's based on guests who have spent at least one night in a hotel in Greater Miami,” Docal said.

The city, known for its nightlife, hotels and the immensely popular South Beach on a peninsula across from the mainland, welcomed 15.5 million visitors last year, according to Docal. That volume of traffic represented US$25.5 billion in direct expenditure.

Of the total arrivals, 60 per cent were international visitors, a reality that is very important to the GMCVB which also aggressively markets the destination to domestic travellers that number about 50 per cent of the city's total arrivals.

While the beach is a big draw, the GMCVB is eager to increase the profile of the city's cultural, heritage and culinary offerings.

Brennan, a Jamaican who once worked at the Ritz Carlton in Montego Bay, said that just over two years ago the bureau formed a Multicultural Tourism Department.

“We found that there is a definite need to share with folks so much more than the beach,” she told the Observer. “We have a vibrant culture in Miami, and with Jamaica being such a bedrock of heritage and culture, we wanted to ensure we share this with the travel agents.”

She explained that the bureau gives special focus to four core neighbourhoods — Little Haiti, Little Havana, Historic Overtown and West Coconut Grove — that offer vibrancy and represent a melting pot of Miami.

“You can go there and watch the cigar rollers, you can do a culinary tour, and so much more, so we're encouraging folks to stay a little longer and experience these heritage neighbourhoods,“ she said. “Get off the beach and come over to the land and visit some of these spots, have some soul food, just have a little touch of this extra flavour.”

Brennan made special mention of the city's carnival scheduled for October 8, saying that the bureau wants people to “mark their calendars”.

“We get a large influx of Caribbean people who come for that, so we want them to also visit the heritage neighbourhoods as well when they come,” she said, adding that the destination also stages a music festival, titled 'Best of the Best' in May that attracts “a large line-up of international artistes” as well as many Jamaican patrons.

“So, there are so many events that will bring Caribbean people from the diaspora, but we want them to know that there is so much more beyond the beach,” Brennan added.

“The idea here is to give a broader vision of the destination itself,” Docal interjected, “because for the most part Caribbean people are accustomed to coming to Miami for the shopping, seeing family and friends — those are short trips mainly — and then they head back home.”

He said the destination presentation was being conducted in collaboration with American Airlines, which has three return flights daily between Jamaica and Miami.

“What we like to do is collaborate with many of our travel industry partners... so they are quite important for us... we feel that we have to do this as a team because we can't do it alone,” said Docal.