Last updated: 05:00 PM ET, Wed May 04 2016

Four Jamaica Tourism Developments to Watch

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | May 04, 2016

Four Jamaica Tourism Developments to Watch

PHOTO: Royalton Luxury Resorts is building Royalton Blue Waters, a 228-room, all-inclusive property, at Jamaica’s White Bay. (Photo by Brian Major).

Tourism officials at the recently completed Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) conference this week noted that among other advantages the destination is “four hours away from one third of the world, and only six hours from the remaining two thirds of the world.”

Such geographical assets are among the reasons the county is the third-most popular Caribbean travel destination, last year hosting 2.1 million overnight visitors and another 1.57 million cruise ship visitors. Yet the country’s public and private tourism stakeholders are far from satisfied with their current status.

Indeed Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s tourism minister is targeting a leap to double-digit visitor arrivals growth following several years of steady-but-slow annual increases averaging around two percent.

Several programs to expand and improve Jamaica’s tourism infrastructure, policies, services and attractions are already underway. Here are four areas where Jamaica stakeholders are outlining plans to support continued visitor growth.

Highway access: Jamaica’s topography, which ranges from beaches to lush rainforests to soaring mountain ranges, have in past year isolated its various tourism districts. New road construction advanced significantly over the past decade, and the county recently took another major step with the opening of the $700 million North-South link of what is known as Highway 2000.

The full highway now extends from Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston to Mammee Bay in the country’s northwest region. The new link permits motorists to bypass steep and winding Bog Walk Gorge and Mount Rosser, meaning travelers from Kingston can reach the Ocho Rios and Montego Bay resort districts in one hour and 1.5 hours, respectively, reducing travel times by one half-hour.

In addition to the significant cut in travel times significantly, the road is expected to launch additional tourism-related development. Three new hotels totaling 2,400 rooms are already planned for the Mammee Bay area following the new link’s development, said Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) officials.

READ MORE: Q&A with Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s Tourism Minister

Moreover, cruise ship passengers arriving in the Ocho Rios port can now schedule visits to historic and cultural sites in Spanish Town and Kingston, with sufficient time to return to their vessels in time for departure. Vacationers in Ocho Rios resorts can now arrive at either the Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport or Kingston’s Norman Manley International airport each now one hour from the resort district.

Hotel happenings: In addition to the new properties planned for Mammee Bay, hoteliers continue to launch new properties across Jamaica’s resort regions.

In November Royalton Luxury Resorts will launch the Royalton Blue Waters, a 228-room, all-inclusive property adjacent to the existing Royalton White Sands resort in White Bay near Montego Bay. The new resort’s facilities will include a lazy river, private pool-side cabanas, three pools, kids clubs, 11 restaurants and a Jamaican jerk shack.

In February Royalton will open the 455-room Royalton Negril and the 94-room Hideaway at Royalton, an adults-only boutique resort within the Royalton Negril, on the resort district’s Seven Mile Beach.

Meanwhile, Karisma Hotels & Resorts will launch the Azul Seven Mile Beach resort in Negril in May of 2017, part of a $1 billion company plan to open 4,000 rooms on Jamaica’s north shore over the next decade. The upscale, all-inclusive Azul Seven Mile Beach property will feature 98 suites, six restaurants and three bars. Ocean by H10 Hotels will add another 800 rooms in Montego Bay’s Trelawny district.

Also one of Jamaica’s premier luxury resorts, the Half Moon resort in Montego Bay, recently completed several renovation projects including a full renovation and expansion of its Sugar Mill restaurant. Upgrades were also made to the popular Cedar Bar, as well as an expansion of the resort’s classic open-air lobby, which now features Lester’s Café, a coffee bar.

READ MORE: How Jamaica is Protecting its UNESCO World Heritage Site

Half Moon’s board of directors recently announced the end of its six-year management agreement with Vail Resorts, Inc. subsidiary, RockResorts. Widely considered Jamaica’s premiere luxury hotel, the property has returned to private management.

International marketing muscle: While approximately 1.7 million of Jamaica’s 2.1 million annual visitors originate in North America, the county remains committed to expanding its arrivals from new markets.

To that end, JTB officials recently announced travelers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, and Bolivia will now be able to visit Jamaica without a visa following the government’s approval of travel restriction waivers for nationals of those countries. Previously citizens from the Central and South American countries were required to possess a U.S., Canadian, U.K. or Schengen visa. Henceforth these visitors can arrive in the country with only a valid passport.

Nationals from Latin America now join travelers from China, the Czech Republic, Japan, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland without visa restrictions to travel to Jamaica.

“Part of our larger tourism strategy is to diversify our markets. This is a positive step as we continue to make headway towards removing barriers to travel while creating ease of access to visitors from these new and emerging markets,” said Paul Pennicook, Jamaica’s director of tourism.

Cuban Coffee Talk: At JAPEX Bartlett announced an agreement with Cuban official to facilitate “multi-destination tourism” between the two countries, and said he will sign a similar agreement with the Dominican Republic in June.

The tourism minister recently discussed “a number of critical issues that we can embark on together” with Bernardo Guanche Hernandez, Cuba’s ambassador to Jamaica. He said Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica represent “60 percent of the entire Caribbean in terms of tourism,” and should leverage that “critical mass” to the benefit of all three, Bartlett said.

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