ROSE HALL, St James — As the tourism ministry ramps up its push into Eastern Europe, two travel agents who serve that market have provided some advice: offer more direct flights, and focus on the higher end of the market.
They argued that Jamaica noted, has something special that will make it attractive to their countrymen, especially if it is easier to get to by those willing to pay.
Daniel Nedved, general manager for Asiana MICE, which operates out of Prague, noted that while the recent expansion of the Sangster International Airport (SIA) was a good move, nothing beats being able to offer flights that make only one stop.
"Any improvement in terms of the connectivity, it's always better for selling the product, so it's always good. On the other hand, the connectivity is also based on the direct flights from Europe, where… you can have the direct flights to Jamaica. That would be better," Nedved told the Jamaica Observer during the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association's staging of Jamaica Product Exchange (Japex).
Just under 400 metres of tarmac were recently added to the SIA's runway. The expanded section became operational two weeks ago.
Nedved stressed that he was not panning the upgraded runway but merely making the point that getting larger planes directly into the destination would be a better sell for travel agents like him and others based in locations such as the Czech Republic.
"It's not really about the wide body aircraft or the super jets. It's… about the regular connection, which we can find, as travel agents, to book our guests on decent flights and bring them to Jamaica," he told the Observer.
Petr Pipek from Kitz Travel agreed.
"Imagine you are sitting 11 hours in the plane and you are flying, for example, from Prague to Frankfurt; it's already one hour. Then you are at the airport for one to three hours before a connecting flight and then you go 11 hours and then you need to go to Jamaica direct. If you go via Cuba or somewhere else, it's getting too long," opined Pipek.
Both men also agreed that Jamaica needs to look upmarket, if it wants to tap into the Eastern European segment of the market. People from that part of the world who are hunting holiday bargains are likely to stay closer to home, they stressed, but the ones willing to make a longer trip are willing to pay so they can travel in comfort.
"Our clients who booked Jamaica from Europe, they are not going really for the budget holidays… We can have a similar kind of vacation closer, way closer to Europe, than the Caribbean," Nedved pointed out.
Pipek is not a fan of budget airlines.
"What we need are really nice flight connections with the proper airlines and not with the low-cost carriers. These airlines, either you don't have business class there or you have a business class which is at the end — not [really] a business class," he pointed out.
Both travel agents agreed Jamaica has a lot to offer.
"My impression is it's very positive. I've been doing business with other Caribbean islands, but they have a different feel. For Jamaica, there is something special, which is why I would like to bring the clients, for sure," Nedved remarked.
"There is golf but it's a different way; there is a heritage thing, there are heritage properties. You have the nice beaches, of course, but you have also the mountains, you have the culture. All that makes a very nice, very interesting, product along with the friendliness of the people," he added.
The tourism ministry is on a campaign to attract 15,000 tourists from Eastern Europe by 2026.