Last updated: 11:35 AM ET, Tue January 05 2016

Jamaica's Tourism Minister Points to Big Things in 2016

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | January 04, 2016

Jamaica's Tourism Minister Points to Big Things in 2016

PHOTO: Dr. Wykeham McNeill, Jamaica’s minister of tourism and entertainment. (Photo by Brian Major)

Jamaica’s tourist arrivals are poised for substantial growth in 2016, propelled by hotel and resort openings and expansions, plus important cultural and historic designations awarded late in 2015, the country’s tourism minister said last month.

Speaking at a “Think Tank” discussion sponsored by the government-run Jamaica Information Service (JIS), Dr. Wykeham McNeill, minister of tourism and entertainment, said the country will benefit from “unprecedented levels” of hotel development which began in 2015 and are expected to continue into 2018.

New resorts launched in 2015 included Karisma Hotel & Resorts’ 138-room Sensatori Jamaica in Negril; Playa Resorts’ 621-room Hyatt Zilara/Hyatt Ziva Montego Bay; Palace Resorts’ 705-room Moon Palace Jamaica Grande in Ocho Rios; Melia Hotel Group’s 226-room Melia Braco Village in the Trelawny district and the 129-room Courtyard by Marriott hotel in Jamaica’s capital city of Kingston, McNeill said.

The openings will continue over the next several years as Karisma Group announced a $1 billion plan to open 4,000 rooms on Jamaica’s north shore over the next decade. Ocean by H10 Hotels will add another 800 rooms in Montego Bay’s Trelawny district.

Several properties also completed recent expansions, said McNeill, including the 850-room Grand Bahia Principe Jamaica resort in Discovery Bay. Montego Bay’s Royalton White Sands is currently adding 200 new rooms; while Riu Resorts is adding 50 new rooms to its Montego Bay property. Those projects follow 2015 upgrades at Riu Negril and Beaches Negril, McNeill said.

“These works are lifting the level of what Jamaica has to offer,” McNeill said. “Our mission and role, above all else, is to see that this growth and optimism in our tourism sector have a meaningful impact on the economy and people of Jamaica.”

Meanwhile Jamaica’s status as an international nature destination received a significant boost in 2015 when the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Jamaica’s Blue and John Crow mountains world heritage sites. UNESCO also awarded Kingston membership in the organization’s Creative Cities Network in the field of music.

The centerpiece attractions of Jamaica’s Blue Mountain and John Crow Mountains National Park (BJCMNP), the peaks are Jamaica’s first UNESCO World Heritage sites and the first mixed sites (representing cultural and natural significance) in the Caribbean to win the UNESCO designation, said Jamaica Tourist Board officials.

BJCMNP features 7,400-foot high Blue Mountain Peak, the country’s highest point. The 193,000-acre site represents 4.5 percent of Jamaica’s land mass and its rain forests are among the last known habitats of the giant swallowtail butterfly, the Western Hemisphere’s largest.

Culturally the site is the historic home and sovereign community of Jamaica’s Windward Maroon community, composed of the descendants of escaped slaves. Late last month the Jamaica National Heritage trust tightened regulations related to visitor management of the ecologically sensitive site.

Meanwhile, UNESCO’s Creative City designation will generate grant funding for selected projects to develop Kingston’s creative sector, said Damion Crawford, Jamaica’s state minister for entertainment and tourism.

McNeill praised the recent developments as “positive addition[s]” to Jamaica’s tourism product. “We talk about Kingston being the cultural capital of the Caribbean and now we can speak to it as being a creative capital as well,” he said. “We are not going to stop there,” McNeill added, saying Jamaica’s food is also “worthy of designation.”

Jamaica’s winter tourism season began strongly last month, with a record 14,000 passengers arriving at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport on Dec. 22, which is the largest number of passengers to pass through the airport in any single day, according to tourism officials. The record visitor total represents a 20 percent increase over the corresponding period in 2014, said airport officials.

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