Destination & Tourism Marsha Mowers June 15, 2023
With new highways, airport expansions, increased capacity and new hotel brands entering Jamaica for the first time, Jamaica’s Director of Tourism Donovan White is excited the destination is on track for record visitation, with 360,00 arrivals from Canada expected by the end of the 2023.
White was in Toronto Wednesday night with rest of the Jamaica Tourist Board team, holding a cooking class for top agents and partners at Cirillo Academy. Guests created Jamaican cuisine with chefs who include Tre Sanderson, the first black Top Chef Canada winner, season 10, and a Jamaica native.
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“When I said thank you earlier and gave gratitude to this group, it wasn’t by chance,” says White, Director of Tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board. “The numbers are very good. We ended December at 256,000 from Canada, and that’s having lost all winter last year. From January to May 2023, we’ve already received 177,000 and with our seat capacity up this summer by 20%, we’ll probably do another 120,000 visitors for summer.
I think that gives a good sense that the trend is extremely aggressive, and we’ll have our biggest year for Canadian travel since 2016.”
There’s increased frequency this summer which will help in reaching those goals, with Air Transat reinstating its flight from Halifax and Caribbean Air has added one additional flight per week between Toronto to Kingston starting July 2 (they now offer two flights a week). The country has multiple infrastructure projects on the go that will help handle that record-breaking visitation. Montego Bay airport is currently under a three phased expansion and redevelopment. Phase One was the expansion of the runway to accommodate larger aircraft as well as better fleet parking and turnaround; an overall better facilitation of movement of aircrafts. The Second Phase was done on the departure side of the airport, and White says the entire process from checkin to departure has been completed, including a new signature waiting area for what is now the Bob Marley restaurant, operated by the owners of Margaritaville and become a signature piece in the airport.
“I think they’ll win an award this year, it’s fantastic. The flow, the aesthetics, the commercialization inside and available options for travellers coming out of Jamaica is at an all-time high.”
“Now we’re moving to the arrival side, which is the pain point of our attack. When the work starts there will be a lot of demolishing and rebuilding, which in and of itself is a disruption and will cause some pain. But I think people will see the benefit of it long term.”
Part of the part of the plan is to institute eGates for Jamaican Passport Holders, which will move them through the system faster, leaving more space for visitors to move faster. But for travellers, the biggest news is changes made to Electronic C5 Form, which is now done electronically.
“The new process, which I just got confirmation on yesterday, allows us to have more control. It also verifies the traveler to us. It will help to get you into a fast-track lane to get you out of the airport much faster.”
There’s also a new piece of highway under construction from the Kingston Harbour View to Port Antonio, a toll road that White says is about 70% complete. The extension of secondary roads from Port Antonio itself, going towards St. Thomas in Eastern Jamaica includes widening to accommodate to four lanes, so that when drivers get back on the new highway, there are no bottlenecks. Bypasses will be added as well to aid in traffic congestion.
Hotel brands, some new to Jamaica are also underway. Earlier this year, Tourism Minister Edward Bartlett said the destination is looking to add 15,000 more rooms over the next three to five years. Of those 15,000, there are already 3500 rooms in production, the largest one is the Princess Hotel which is building a 2000 room property in Hanover, which, for reference, is about 15 minutes from Grand Palladium. Their first 1,000 rooms are slated to open February 2024.
Sandals Dunn River recently reopened, a signature property for many years. White says the property is affectionally referred to as “the new Jewel” and to take all of the beauty of Sandals and multiply it by 10; guests can see the beach on arrival at the front gate, with a massive wide open lobby to greet them.
Riu Aquarelle is also set to open in 2024 in Falmouth, with 650 rooms. There’s also Unico with 450 rooms opening in 2024 in Montego Bay and plans for approval for new a new Secrets property in St. Anne’s and a Viva Wyndham in Negril.
“There’s quite a bit of product that is that is making inroads in Jamaica and a lot of them are new brands, brands that weren’t there before. That diversity is really great for the destination.”
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