MONTEGO BAY: The 23rd Jamaica Product Exchange trade show (JAPEX) opened at the Montego Bay Convention centre last weekend with travel agents and buyers in attendance from North America, Europe, Latin America and Russia.
JAPEX “continues to be by far the single most important trade show for Jamaica’s tourism business”, said Jamaica’s tourism minister, Dr. Wykeham McNeill, at the event’s opening function.
“We continue to do business against a background of tough global economic conditions, which have persisted in markets such as the U.S., Canada and the UK,” said Dr. McNeill. “However, we ended 2012 with 1.8 per cent growth. We continue to have growth and are looking forward to a good summer.”
McNeill gave a positive outlook for the growth of the tourism sector.
“Here in Jamaica we have been experiencing new investment and some transition of ownership taking place in the hotel sector,” he said. “RIU Resorts has 250 upscale rooms under construction in Montego Bay and we have welcomed some established brands to the ownership of some established hotels: Blue Diamond Resorts has taken over the Trelawny Beach Hotel, Melia Hotels has taken over the Braco Village, Karisma Resorts has taken over the Poinciana in Negril, Sagicor has now taken over its third property to be operated under the Jewels flag. In our capital, Kingston, construction of a Mariott Courtyard should begin this year.”
Going forward, McNeill said Jamaica will be offering a more attractive product.
“We have successfully broken into the Latin American market and have made significant headway in reducing the barriers to travel,” he said. “Specifically, we have relaxed the visa requirements for nationals from Colombia, Venezuela and Panama, and we have implemented direct airlift arrangements with Copa. This summer, Copa, having started with two flights to Jamaica, is now providing four flights per week to Kingston and four to Montego Bay from its hub in Panama City.”
McNeill said the eastern European markets are also showing solid potential, with Russia in particular starting to produce good numbers.
“Recently we announced the decision of Cabinet to approve the waiving of visa requirements for nationals of Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine,” said McNeill. “Currently we have one flight out of Moscow every 10 days; however we are in the middle of negotiations to increase this to two flights on a 10-day rotation for the 2013/2014 winter period. We will be bolstering our flights out of Europe with an additional flight by Condor Airlines in November 2013 out of Munich, a major hub for Europe. Plus a charter service out of the Czech Republic will continue for winter 2013/2014. The addition of the new service by Thomas Cook out of Stockholm, starting in November 2013, with further expansion of service in December 2013, will continue the foray into the expanded European markets.”
McNeill said Virgin Atlantic will increase airlift into Jamaica.
“This summer, Virgin Atlantic increases service from the UK to three weekly flights into Montego Bay, up from two for last summer; and TUI offering its fifth flight from the UK in summer 2014,” he said.
However, McNeill said the Canadian market has been challenged. Canadian companies have streamlined their operations, resulting in decreased airlift into Caribbean destinations. He said Jamaica is taking a proactive approach to increase airlift from the Canadian market for the 2013/2014 winter season.
“We are also very excited that as of July 1, Kingston will be the first destination for Air Canada’s leisure carrier, Rouge,” said McNeill. “Additionally, Air Canada Vacations has outlined significant growth plans for Jamaica as we head into next winter and beyond.”
McNeill also announced that Jamaica’s Casino Gaming Act is now fully in effect. The final part of the Act was signed recently by the Minister of Finance and Planning. It deals with integrated resort development, which represents the means by which the Government of Jamaica proposes to substantially grow the hotel sector with accompanying casinos.
As of June 1, the Government of Jamaica will be receiving requests for proposals inclusive of applications to operate casinos. Four months will be allowed for review of proposals and the government expects to be able to make a decision by early 2014.
“The Minister of Finance and Planning has advised that he has received at least six serious expressions of interest,” said McNeill.