Tourism officials predict top-quality winter tourist season
RUSSELL... I can see us having a very good winter tourist season.

MONTEGO BAY, St James — The tune being hummed by one key tourism-related organisation, as well as business interests, is that this north Caribbean island stands to benefit greatly from the 2022-2023 winter tourist season, which begins, officially, December 15.

Relishing in the successful rebound of Jamaica's tourism sector despite challenges faced amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Robin Russell has said that stakeholders should expect a "very good winter tourist season".

Speaking to the Jamaica Observer on Friday, Russell noted that forward bookings for this winter tourist season, are showing that Destination Jamaica is still a top choice for vacationers.

The JHTA president said that Jamaica is currently racking up a record number of visitors as it continues to rebound stronger than ever.

He further told the Sunday Observer that Destination Jamaica is moving closer to repeating its 2019 tourism season during which approximately 4.3 million visitors journeyed to the island. This comprised 2.7 million stopover arrivals and 1.6 million cruise passengers, whose combined spending contributed to the destination earned US$3.64 billion. Earlier this year it was projected that the island would see this number of visitors and earnings by the third quarter of 2023.

"We are about where we were in 2019 and our forward bookings are looking very good, so I can see us having a very good winter tourist season," said Russell.

According to the JHTA president, the current forward bookings indicate that a lot of the island's hotels will see approximately 90 per cent occupancy during this season. This will merely be a continuation of the summer period and an uptick for other properties which experienced a slow start, Russell pointed out.

"I would say that most properties enjoyed a very good summer. Our August through October was above average for most properties. So where most properties would be running 30 and 40 per cent during our slow period, a lot of properties were running between 60 and 70 per cent," he explained.

Russell continued, "We know that some properties in Negril were struggling, but the Jamaica Tourist Board did some work and I just got a report that Negril properties are running at 70 per cent [occupancy]. They started to pick up and from all indications they are also going to have a pretty good winter tourist season."

Joining in on the JHTA president's projections for the winter tourist season was the manager of Ocho Rios' Hermosa Cove Klent Elson, who told the Sunday Observer that the villa is set to benefit from an influx of visitors.

"We are about 90 per cent ready. The bookings for the upcoming winter season are coming in, so we are optimistic and are expecting a great season," Elson said.

As of December 14, Elson shared, Hermosa Cove will be at approximately 54 per cent occupancy. But he quickly pointed out the villa's occupancy level will increase to 84 per cent a week later.

"Over the Christmas period we will still be about 80 per cent occupancy," Elson said, noting that Hermosa Cove has a mandatory stay of no less than five nights during the winter tourist season due to their demand for rooms.

Similarly, in the tourism hub of Negril, the owner of the Ocean View Spa Claudette Nicholson is patiently waiting for the winter tourist season. Nicholson told the Sunday Observer that the season brings a lot of repeat customers to her Norman Manley Boulevard-based seaside spa, "The winter tourist season is one of the busiest seasons for us."

With her current rank on as the number one spa to visit in Negril, Nicholson said travellers from across the world were making contact to book their upcoming massage sessions.

"I am looking for a lot of repeaters during this winter tourist season," she said.

Director for stays at Temple X's Music Mansion Shavel Soares is also optimistic about the upcoming tourist season. Though a newcomer in the tourism sector, the luxury villa and art gallery is prepared to rack up its accommodations come next month.

"We are adequately prepared and very excited due to being new. We have learned a lot of lessons along the way and we have done a lot to fix the minor errors we made in the past. We have done a lot of staff training and we worked with Government agencies on compliance, so we are very excited and prepared," Soares told the Sunday Observer.

Pointing out that the villa officially became an attraction during the height of the pandemic, Soares said the Music Mansion had "an exceptional summer season", which she believes has set the tone for the winter tourist season.

"It was our pilot season, but we had a lot going on. We had a bartenders' retreat from which our cocktail programme was developed. It has prepared us a lot for the upcoming season and it has taught us a lot about the direction that we plan to go, especially with our tours. Our reviews will also show that some really strong relationships were built with our visitors. Some have even returned and others have sent guests here," Soares explained.

Early in November senior advisor and strategist in the Ministry of Tourism Delano Seiveright shared that three major UK airlines — TUI, British Airways, and Virgin Atlantic – will operate a combined total of at least 18 flights per week with Jamaica over the winter months.

"The ramp-up will commence this month and run straight through the winter tourist season. TUI will have at least eight non-stop flights per week into Montego Bay from multiple UK cities; Virgin Atlantic will run a daily service into Montego Bay from London Heathrow, and British Airways will continue to service Kingston non-stop," Seiveright said then.

Seiveright further underscored that Jamaica has been seeing a sustained surge in visitors from the United Kingdom all set to beat arrival and earnings records, with overall holidays to Jamaica selling at 25 to 40 per cent more than in 2019.

In 2019 Jamaica welcomed 225,000 UK visitors, those numbers dipped significantly in 2020 and 2021 due to the pandemic that ravaged global travel. In 2022, despite challenges at the beginning of the year due to the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus, Jamaica is still on track to surpass the record-breaking 2019 numbers. If projections hold the island should welcome well over 225,000 UK visitors.

SEIVERIGHT... Jamaica has been seeing substantial surge in visitors from the UK.
Rochelle Clayton

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