Jamaica Gleaner / WESTERN BUREAU:
Jamaica’s winter tourist cycle, which commenced yesterday, December 15, will be the largest in the country’s history, with tourism minister Edmund Bartlett projecting a five per cent growth in stop-over arrivals.
Bartlett was able to make this ambitious projection, having put in place 100,000 new airline seats between now and 2019, while citing upcoming construction of 4,799 rooms by local and international investors.
Addressing stakeholders during a ceremony marking the historic four-millionth visitor to arrive on the island, Bartlett said that nearly 500,000 more persons visited the country in 2017, compared to 2016.
“We welcomed 2.1 million stop-over visitors and 1.9 million cruise ship passengers, and we expect the year to end with 2.3 million, and cruise, 2.1 million,” Bartlett told the gathering, noting that the numbers reflected a record of all records.
Earnings from the industry, which he described as unprecedented, are now at US$2.9 billion.
Traditionally, earnings always exceed arrivals by far; however, arrivals are now creeping up on earnings, argued the tourism minister. Arrivals, he said, are 11.6 per cent over 2016, while earnings are 11.7 per cent over the same period.
10th-straight Christmas visit
“And we are being precise because we do not want to err on exuberance,” he told the gathering, which included Jill Bell, the four-millionth visitor, and her husband, Stephen. The two have visited the island 25 times, spending their last 10 Christmases at Sandals Negril.
Bell, of Wisconsin in the USA, arrived on American Airlines, Flight 840, from Charlotte, North Carolina.
The couple contributes to the 42 per cent repeat business that the country experiences, which the minister boasts is the highest in the Caribbean.
The USA remains the island’s largest source market and continues to grow exponentially, but not as fast as Europe, Bartlett told the gathering, pointing out that Jamaica is now the top Caribbean destination for UK visitors.
The tourism minister’s optimism has been concretised by CEO of MBJ Airports Limited Dr Rafael Echevarne, who revealed that the international airport was originally projecting a four per cent growth at the start of the year, however, with good fortune, that number has doubled.
More passengers using the airport facility means wear and tear, and the airport CEO is prepared. Come 2018, “the most important year for the airport”, he said that US$40 million would be pumped into improving the current facility.
“We will be renovating the ticketing area and improving the infrastructure to include the arrivals corridors,” stated Echevarne.
Announcement of the planned improvements was welcomed by the tourism minister, who not only revealed that an average of 175,000 visitors on an average per month use the facilities, but that the numbers signalled full-time jobs instead of part-time.