EVENTS HAVE become the number one priority for driving Jamaica’s tourism sector, says one of the most respected voices in the industry, Nicola Madden-Greig.
Essentially, providing different kinds of tourism is critical to Jamaica’s future, the hotelier told The Gleaner last weekend, while Michael Bolton had the resort town of Ocho Rios under wraps; A-lister Angelina Jolie endorsing the South Coast’s Calabash Literary Festival; and Mocha Fest staking its claim in the ‘Capital of Casual’, Negril.
“I just actually did a report where data is showing how events drive tourism, how we really see the demand spike, in terms of the kind of bookings that you see around events. And it’s something more and more of us throughout the Caribbean and particularly in Jamaica is paying more attention to,” stated Madden-Greig, president of the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA).
According to her, the consumer is looking for local and authentic experiences, which Jamaica has the ability to deliver. This, she tstates, is an integral part of the island’s strategy, “doing it in a way that really impacts lives and communities”.
This was evidenced by the thousands, many from as far as the United Kingdom, who flocked to the usually quiet Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth from Friday to Sunday, and soaked up the words of some of the world’s most reputable writers, poets and laureates at Calabash, which was absent for five years.
The man responsible for opening up Treasure Beach to the world, Jason Henzell, concurred with Madden-Greig, describing the festival as one that had become a ‘movement’.
Henzell, who partners with his sister Justine in the staging of the biennial event, said Calabash’s return was phenomenal as it attracted some of the biggest names in media, and gave the island international coverage that it otherwise could not have afforded to pay for.
“It’s not just another festival, it is almost like a movement that people identify with. They dress differently, they move differently, they express themselves in a very liberal way. They know it’s a very safe place to express opinions, your sexuality, whatever it is their views are,” said Henzell.
Of the 1,000 rooms in the greater Treasure Beach area, not one was available for rental up Friday to afternoon, as the area was fully booked. In fact, guests stayed as far as Whitehouse in the west and as far as Mandeville to the east. And on both days, Saturday and Sunday, several buses transported people from Kingston to bask in the occasion for literary lovers.
“People were yearning for the festival obviously,” remarked Henzell, who added that Jolie was the icing on the cake. The philanthropist/social justice movie star was there with her daughters Shiloh and Zahara.
Henzell said that Jolie heard about the festival from her friend, who is a writer.
The festival, he said, paid off handsomely as global brand Audible came on board, joining the likes of the Jamaica Tourist Board, and WATA to enable tents, tables and more chairs this year.
Area Chapter chair at the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Montego Bay chapter, Nadine Spence, who attended the festival, credits Jamaica’s global appeal for its success.
“Americans in particular are excited about Jamaica, and that is our feeder market, so when they get excited we benefit significantly,” Spence stated.
To strengthen her point, Spence referenced recent statements by the American Association of Travel Advisors (ASTA) that Jamaica remains a top 10 destination for aspirational visits by Americans.
“Those of us in the tourism space are happy,” she said of the impact of these events on the nation’s tourism. “We saw a buzz at the airport last weekend and I am sure it’s the different activities happening in Jamaica.”
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