For any business traveller, their typical schedule is likely to be filled with meetings and conferences, with very little time to explore their new environment. Unless a tour is included in the itinerary, any hopes of an opportunity to play tourist may never materialize.
In the case of Jamaica, tourism officials say the majority of arrivals to the capital, Kingston, consists of business travellers. Chairman of the Kingston chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Christopher Jarrett, recently told a group of visiting Caribbean journalists that there is now a push to encourage them to visit the many attractions there.
“We try to remind the guests that are coming to Kingston that we have beaches in Kingston as well, and we have Lime Key and Pigeon Island and all these places that they can still vacation . . . there’s Blue Mountain to hike, we have bike trails,” he explained.
Jarrett added that recent figures show that Montego Bay appears to be the preferred choice for holidaymakers, and they are looking to change that trend.
“We’re down by about 0.02 per cent, so we may just conclude that it’s been flat for Kingston, but for Montego Bay it was up I think it was five percent or so. So between December until April in Montego Bay, all hotels . . . were running full almost up to April. And I think that’s indicative of the fact that the loads were great coming into Montego Bay.
“In Kingston, we have had a converse challenge where we’re sort of trying to battle for the diminishing pie, if you will, just for this particular period. But the minister has hopes, and has been pushing the whole marketing campaign towards increased visitor arrivals for Kingston,” Jarrett said.
Jamaica may be the home of Bob Marley, Usain Bolt, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Price, and Ackee and Saltfish, to name a few, but Jarrett said there is a lot more to the land of wood and water. According to him, tourism officials are also working on a redevelopment plan for downtown Kingston, including the introduction of regular cruise ship visits.
“We had one visit last year but it was not scheduled. It was because a port was not available in Montego Bay and they ended up coming to Kingston just for the day. That’s one of the things we’re actively looking at, it’s trying to get more activities in Kingston. There are a lot more events that are being planned for instance, a lot more music, fashion, film . . . ,” Jarrett said.
Jamaica’s main markets are the United States, Canada, Europe, China, as well as the neighbouring Cayman Islands. There is also a push to woo more visitors from the Caribbean.
“We’d love to see some more [from the Caribbean]. We did a famtour last year to Trinidad, we went to Cayman year before last . . . we haven’t done Barbados recently” he stated.
Even though Jamaica remains a popular tourist destination, Jarrett acknowledged that the island’s high level of criminal activity may be a deterrent for potential visitors.
“In addition to the fact that crime is everywhere, I think it is just how Jamaica tends to not be able to keep a lid on it. In other words, I don’t think our crime is any more than anywhere else per se . . . the people, I think generally in Jamaica, have not been able to buy into the idea that it is our own product and so we should protect it,” Jarrett said.
The most recent statistics from the Jamaica Tourist Board show that in 2015 the island welcomed 3,691,744 visitors, who spent US $2.4 billion.