Sunday,  October 1, 2023  3:28 pm

JAPEX: Jamaica tourism set to have “best year” in history, says Minister Bartlett

JAPEX: Jamaica tourism set to have “best year” in history, says Minister Bartlett
The Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) has kicked off in Montego Bay. (Supplied)
Pax Global Media

The Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX), an industry trade show hosted annually by the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), in association with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), has kicked off in Montego Bay, with all signals pointing to strong arrival numbers. 

With a target in sight of earning US$4.1 billion, Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett indicated that Jamaica is having its best year ever in visitor arrivals.

His enthusiasm was shared as the tourism sector celebrated the return of JAPEX post-pandemic with an elaborate opening event at Chukka Outpost on the Sandy Bay coastline Monday night (Sept. 11).

“As we currently stand, we are about to have the best year in the history of tourism in Jamaica for stopover arrivals,"  Bartlett said in a press release.

READ MORE: Jamaica goes paperless with passenger declaration form

The record of 3.8 million visitors in less than four years after the COVID-19 pandemic had shut down tourism travel globally has been hailed by Mr. Bartlett as a feat achieved through a solid partnership with the international and local tourism partners who are attending the three-day marketing event at the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

“Jamaica today boasts that it is the number one destination in the entire English-speaking Caribbean and arguably in the entire Americas, thank you,” he told the tourism partners, noting that this had been achieved because of their confidence, continued support and commitment to Jamaica.

Bartlett also informed the tourism stakeholders that investments in Jamaica’s tourism sector remained strong and bullish and “next year alone we’ll be having 2,000 new rooms for you to sell for us when you go back to your destinations.” 

There will also be new attractions and Jamaica remained committed to safety, security and seamlessness, he assured them.

Lift ramping up

Connectivity between Canada and Jamaica, meanwhile, is ramping up.

This winter, Air Transat, will be restore flights to Montego Bay from Halifax – a well-performing route that was brought back last winter. It will start on Feb. 19.

Caribbean Airlines, too, has added more lift between Toronto and Kingston.

Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing also serve Jamaica, as does ultra-low-cost carrier Swoop – at least until the carrier is integrated into WestJet’s mainline at the end of October.

Flair will launch a new service to Kingston, Jamaica, beginning Dec. 16. (Flair)

Swoop offers a good selection of seats to Jamaica – from Toronto to Montego Bay and Kingston, for example. And they’re popular routes, both with vacationers and the Jamaican diaspora.

Shortly after Swoop folds, low-cost airline Flair will launch a new service to Kingston, Jamaica, beginning Dec. 16, from Toronto.

READ MORE: Flair to launch Toronto-Kingston, Jamaica service on Dec. 16

In a statement earlier this month, Flair said it will cater to the "unique travel needs of the Jamaican-Canadian community," noting the importance of this connection to facilitate "affordable travel between families, friends, and cultures."

The big news, shared this week, is that Canada Jetlines will be launching a new, twice-weekly route btween Toronto Pearson and Montego Bay starting on November 5. 

Jetlines’ Director of Sales and Business Development Sanjay Kopalkar revealed that frequency may increase to three fights weekly, and “depending on the progress and getting new aircraft, which are lined up for the first quarter of 2024, we will look at flying at least five times a week into Jamaica." 

From left: Donovan White, director of tourism, JTB; Edmund Bartlett, Minister of Tourism; Sanjay Kopalkar, director of sales & business development, Canada Jetlines. (Supplied)

The airline is also contemplating service to Kingston in the near future.

Minister Bartlett applauded the news. 

“With Jetlines coming on board, we are expecting a welcome increase in stopover visitors from Canada to take us closer to achieving our committed target of five million visitors and US$5 billion in earnings within five years,” the Minister stated in a press release. 

New hotels on the horizon

In hotel land, there’s a slew of new properties in Jamaica to look forward to.

As Minister Bartlett noted earlier this year, the destination is looking to add 15,000 rooms over the next three to five years.

Of that 15,000 rooms, there’s already 3,500 rooms in production, Donovan White, director of tourism for the JTB, told PAX last June.

The biggest producer is the Princess Hotel, which is constructing some 2,000 rooms in Green Island, Hanover, on the northwestern tip of Jamaica, White said.

READ MORE: Canada Jetlines to launch Toronto-Montego Bay service on Nov. 5

This property is slated to open its first 1,000 rooms in February of 2024.

There’s also the all-new 260-room Sandals Dunn’s River, which unbolted its doors with an opening party in May.

Aerial view of the all-new Sandals Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.(Sandals Resorts)

RIU is building the 650-room Hotel RIU Palace Aquarelle in Falmouth, the capital city of Trelawny. It’s set to open in April 2024.

AIC Hotel Group is also building a property in Montego Bay, which will add 1,700 rooms across three brands – UNICO being one of them, which should be completed by late 2024.

There are other projects in various stages of approvals, including a new Secrets in Saint Ann, where Karisma is also set to build, White revealed.

Meanwhile, Viva Wyndham is constructing a new property in Negril.

“A lot of them are new brands – brands that weren't there before, which is great for the destination in terms of diversity,” White said.

Villas are also paving the way for the creation of what’s being dubbed “The Jamaican Riviera.”

With the pandemic bringing about a revival in villas, “Jamaica is now leading the way in providing new and exciting villa experiences for tourists across the region,” said Minister Bartlett, speaking at the opening of a $1.3 billion-dollar development, Bengal Cove Villas, in Discovery Bay in March.

Meanwhile, Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay (MBJ) is in the midst of a a three-phase redevelopment - the first of which expanded runways to accommodate larger aircraft and more parking spaces.

Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay. (Shutterstock/Debbie Ann Powell)

Work is being done to improve the airport's flow, aesthetic, commercialization, and availability of brands. 

A signature waiting area has also opened – a Bob Marley restaurant, operated by the team at Margaritaville, which features a 360-degree video screen.

Road and airport upgrades are also underway.

There’s a new piece of highway from Harbour View in Kingston to Port Antonio that’s almost complete.

And while there doesn't appear to be plans to build an airport in Port Antonio, there are discussions happening about adding an airstrip for smaller aircraft for intra-island flights. 

Jamaica goes paperless 

Meanwhile, Jamaica’s passenger declaration form has since gone paperless.

Since Sept. 1, all passengers travelling to the country has been required to complete their customs and immigration form electronically either before their trip or upon arrival at the airport through a mobile kiosk or their phones.

Previously, passengers had the option of completing the form online before their trip or filling out a paper copy at the airport upon arrival in Jamaica.

The move to digital information collection is meant to help streamline the arrival process in Kingston and Montego Bay and to ensure passengers are able to clear customs and immigration as quickly as possible.

“This paperless entry form will reduce wait times at Jamaica’s airports and make for a smooth and seamless arrival experience so that visitors can begin enjoying the destination even sooner,” said Angella Bennett, regional director, Canada at the JTB, last month. 

Attendees to JAPEX 2023 are from all across the globe, including Canada, the U.S., Latin America and Eastern Europe.

Minister Bartlett will visit Canada next week, as well as the United Kingdom to further boost travel there through the Jamaica Marketplace trade event.

MAIN IMAGE: From left: Executive Director of Jamaica Vacations, Joy Roberts; former President of Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Omar Robinson; current JHTA President, Robin Russell; Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett; Nadine Spence, JHTA Montego Bay Area Chairman; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Tourism, Jennifer Griffith; Chief Executive Officer, CHUKKA Caribbean Adventures, Marc Melville, Managing Director of CHUKKA, John Byles and Director of Tourism, Donovan White attend JAPEX's 2023 opening event on Sept. 11.

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