While growth in Canadian arrivals to Jamaica has flattened in recent months, the Jamaica Tourist Board is optimistic that improvements to the country’s tourism infrastructure will reverse that trend.
The 2019 Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) wrapped up in Montego Bay on Sept. 11, following two days of intensive networking and relationship-building between Jamaican product buyers, suppliers and travel advisors from around the world.
JAPEX 2019 began with a welcome reception under warm evening breezes at the Montego Bay Convention Centre and ended with a spectacular beach party hosted by Sandals Montego Bay, including a rousing concert by reggae sensation Tarrus Riley that brought the house down. In between, delegates participated in marketing and social media workshops, networking appointments and product presentations.
Marginal growth from Canada
As reported earlier this week, Jamaica is enjoying overall healthy arrival numbers this year. However, growth from Canada has been marginal, with just a 0.8 per cent increase for the first half of 2019 compared to the same time last year, according to statistics provided the Caribbean Travel Organization.
PAX spoke to Angella Bennett, regional director - Canada for Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), to hear her views about some of the challenges facing the Canadian market.
Bennett pointed out the grounding of the 737 MAX-8 aircraft has had a major impact in Canadian arrival numbers, mainly because many of these planes were being used as connectors to bring passengers into the major Canadian hubs.
“Although there is excellent airlift into Jamaica from Canada, with the 737 MAX-8 aircraft out of service, it has made things more difficult for many travellers from smaller communities to reach the Canadian hubs that fly to Jamaica.”
The booking pattern for Canada has also been short - between 60 to 100 days - according to Bennett.
“It is something we hope to address and improve upon.”
Jamaica is safe to visit
News of Jamaica’s ongoing limited state of emergency no doubt affected travellers’ decision to choose the island as a vacation spot.
“Our focus is to ensure we provide a safe Jamaica, not just for visitors but also for the safety and security of our people across the country,” said Donovan White, director of tourism for JTB. “There has been no interruption with tourism and excursion activities. We have a record of less than 0.01 percent of crime against tourists.”
PAX did not encounter any inconveniences or feel any security concerns while in Montego Bay as a result of the limited state of emergency. Airport arrival and departure procedures are unaffected and road checks only occur outside the resort zones, with tour buses quickly passing through without any delay or incident.
“We are a value-based product, not price-based”
In the Canadian market, White sees Jamaica currently being in a competitive landscape with other Caribbean islands, but he is confident that the quality of Jamaica’s resort properties and the island’s diverse offerings will prevail.
“Jamaica continues to be recognized as a world-class destination, winning notable industry awards such as the number one Best Destination in the Caribbean and fourteenth Best Destination of the World by 2019 TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice awards,” White added. “We are a value-based product, not price-based. And we are working hard to provide support to enhance our value proposition.“
According to White, 42 per cent of Jamaica arrivals today are repeat visitors, which means almost one in every two visitors has chosen to come back, solidifying his confidence that Jamaica has obviously received a level of acceptance from travellers as being a worthy destination.
Improved traveller experience
Some of the enhancements White spoke about include the opening of the North South highway which now links Ocho Rios and Montego Bay to Kingston in 45 minutes and 2.5 hours, respectively.
Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay is adding 25,800 square feet to the departure terminal, leveraging the latest technology to improve passenger experience, and enhancing the commercial areas with Jamaican specialty products and original handicrafts.
Connecting to the island’s various towns are also made easy with domestic airlines JAM Air Express operating scheduled flights, and Airlink Express with private air charters and air taxi services.
Seamless arrivals with online immigration form
The most welcoming improvement is the introduction of an online Immigration and Customs Declaration form that international passengers can complete prior to leaving home. Travellers log on to C5 Online to enter address and passport information at any time before departure, and upon deplaning in Jamaica, they simply proceed directly to the immigration officer to present their passports.
Bennett herself used the website for her trip to JAPEX and found it very easy to use.
“This means no more forms to fill out on the plane – it’s a quick and seamless arrival process. I hope every travel advisor is aware of this wonderful convenience and offer it to their clients travelling to Jamaica.”
With increasing airlift, infrastructure improvements, and heavy investments in additional hotel beds, Bennett has a very positive outlook for the upcoming season.
“I am very optimistic about the future as we grow our inventory in Jamaica, which will provide a good injection to this winter and winter 2021. I give full credit to our Canadian tour operators in providing very lucrative offers, and to the Canadian travel trade, who continues to present Jamaica as a premier vacation destination.”
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