Aerial view of Half Moon, a luxury resort near Montego Bay. (Larry Luxner)
On Dec. 30, with only two days left in 2013, Jamaica welcomed its two millionth air passenger to the island — the first time Jamaica has ever accomplished that in one year. The island hopes to repeat the milestone in 2014, though it’s unclear how quickly tourism will grow, given the IMF’s projection of only 1.3% economic expansion for Jamaica this year after growth of only 0.4% in 2013 and a 0.5 percent decline the year before.
Jamaica recently got a boost with the inaugural flight of Air Canada Rouge in November and new service from Air Transero; the two aircraft landed at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport with just under 600 passengers.
October 2013 saw an increase of 11.2% in air arrivals compared to October 2012, and the following month saw a 7.3 percent over the year-ago period. Tourism Director John Lynch said more than one million air seats have been secured through the winter months into April 2014 — a jump of 40,000 seats compared to last winter.
“Increased airlift and significant hotel investments are due to a greater demand of visitors to Jamaica,” Lynch said in a press release. “The destination continues to see an increase in its annual visitor arrivals, with 2012 recording 1.8 million stopover arrivals.”
The United States supplies 86 percent of all stopover arrivals to Jamaica and is holding steady, while the U.K. market is recovering. British Airways will introduce a fourth flight to Jamaica this year, and TUI will add a sixth flight to complement its recently announced summer flights that serve its cruise ship, now homeporting in Montego Bay.
Tourism Minister Wykeham McNeill said cruise-ship visitor arrivals to Jamaica are projected to surpass the 1.4 million mark by the end of 2014 for the first time.
“We are also concentrating on home porting,” said McNeill, adding that in 2014, Ocho Rios will welcome for the first time the Norwegian Epic, as well as the return of Royal Caribbean. While cruise ship arrivals increased by 17.3 percent in 2012, McNeill said Jamaica will have ended 2013 “marginally down.”
“But, we have to view this in the context of two phenomenal years of growth after the opening of the Falmouth pier,” he told Jamaica’s House of Representatives last July. “I have every confidence that the tourism sector will meet the expectations we are placing on it, as the path ahead continues to offer promise of further growth, and destination Jamaica retains its international competitive edge.”
Canada’s TravelWeek reported that Jamaica’s room stock increased in 2013 with the opening of newly renovated properties including Jamaica’s first Azul Sensatori Hotel by Karisma Hotels & Resorts in Negril with 136 rooms; the all-inclusive Royalton White Sands in Falmouth with 352 newly refurbished rooms; Jewel Paradise Cove Resort & Spa, an exclusive adults-only oceanfront property in Runaway Bay with 225 rooms; and the new adults-only RIU Palace in Montego Bay with 238 rooms.
Other investments include the 427-room Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall, formerly the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort & Spa, which is slated to open in 2014 in Montego Bay as an all-inclusive resort; the 226-room Braco Village Hotel & Spa in Trelawny which will reopen as the Melia Jamaica in November 2014.
But Montego Bay must do something about the 1,200 or so rooms in hotels along the resort’s “hip strip” which have remained closed for years.
Larry Luxner is news editor of The Washington Diplomat and former editor of CubaNews. Born and raised in Miami and based in Bethesda, Md., since 1995, Larry has reported from every country in the Western Hemisphere. His specialty is Latin America and the Middle East, and he’s written more than 2,000 articles for publications ranging from National Journal to Saudi Aramco World. Larry also runs an Internet-based stock photo agency at www.luxner.com.