By RON FANFAIR
In spite of the continued economic uncertainty, Canadians continue to visit Jamaica in record numbers, says Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Edward Bartlett.
Bartlett, on a brief visit to Toronto this week, said Jamaica has seen a 22.7 per cent increase in Canadian visitors during the first five months of 2011. At the present rate, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) expects the 2011 numbers to exceed the 325,191 of 2010, he said
Overall, Jamaica has enjoyed healthy increases during the first eight months of 2011. With close to 2.1 million visitors, a 5.7 per cent increase over the same period in 2010, Jamaica’s tourism revenues have jumped to US$1.48 billion, representing a healthy 3.4 per cent increase over the corresponding US$1.432 billion in 2010.
The minister attributed Jamaica’s promising tourism performance, in part, to the opening of the US$269 million Falmouth Pier in Trelawny which opened last March. Cruise ship visitors in the same period saw a healthy 13.6 per cent increase over the corresponding period in 2010. He said the government plans to continue its tourism infrastructure development program, including a US$40 million five-year program for the Falmouth shoreline experience.
The ambitious development program includes upgrading the Ocho Rios port to the same standard as Falmouth. Bartlett said the artisan village will “significantly revolutionize the whole business of vending and craft trading within the resort”, while he expects that the Urban Development Corporation’s festival village “will create a new experience along the Ocho Rios seafront”.
Additionally, the Port Authority of Jamaica is in talks with Carnival Cruise Lines to “set up a new and secured port facility, as well as remodel Reynolds Pier, one of the two piers that now accommodate cruise lines but is also involved in commercial activity. He said the government of Jamaica wants the Reynolds Pier to become a dedicated cruise ship hub.
“When that happens, Ocho Rios will be in the same league as Falmouth and, indeed, would be in a better position than Falmouth simply because it would have been able to mix an enormous land-based product which currently accounts for 32 per cent of the rooms in Jamaica.”
Bartlett revealed that the government was also in negotiations with a “significant legacy carrier” to provide direct flights through the newly expanded Ian Fleming International Airport to “New York and other U.S. cities”.
With the expected increased airlift, the government is forecasting an increase in its 31,000 rooms by as much as 20,000 over the next five years, provided the capital markets are supportive of these investments. Courtyard by Marriott is schedule to break ground next year in New Kingston.
With these planned developments in major resorts, however, a key sector is being squeezed. Small hotels are finding it increasingly difficult to compete and hold their own. While acknowledging this reality, Bartlett suggested that the owners of smaller properties should seek to carve out a niche for themselves.
While admitting that competition will be “intense” and “intolerant of size”, the minister said that “there’s a niche for small hotels”. Toward that end, he said, the ministry was “pushing events such as faith-based activities and bird watching” in the hope of driving visitors to the smaller properties.
“We can provide them with all the tax incentives, but if there isn’t a market and demand that is visible, we will just be throwing good money at something that will not work,” he said.