Often described as the land of “wood and water” and one of “sun, sea and sand”, the Caribbean island of Jamaica is quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with as it makes a new name for itself as a tourist destination of choice for everyone, all year round.
To demonstrate this, the island welcomed a record 4.3 million visitors throughout 2017 from all over the world, and revenue of approximately US$3 billion.
Continuing on that outstanding performance, the destination welcomed a 9.6 per cent growth in revenues to US$3.3 billion last year, with a one per cent increase in visitor arrivals.
And after ending January 2019 on a high, with an increase of 12 per cent over the same period last year, officials have indicated that Jamaica was on course to record another bumper year in tourist arrivals.
It was last week that the over 4,200 square miles island hosted the 37th annual Caribbean Travel Marketplace, the Caribbean’s largest tourism marketing event, in Montego Bay.
The event, which was produced by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA) in collaboration with co-hosts the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) and the Jamaica Ministry of Tourism, was held at the state-of-the-art convention centre in the second city.
This massive space was constructed in 2011, providing more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition area, more than 20,000 square feet of banquet facility and more than 11,000 square feet of meeting space, as the government at the time placed heavy emphasis on the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibition (MICE) market.
During the January 29 to 31 event, about 50 journalists from the Caribbean, Canada, Latin America, South America, continental Europe, the UK and the US, took part in some of the events. They were also given an opportunity to enjoy a few aspects of the destination.
Amidst the heavy rains some days, which Jamaicans casually refer to as “liquid sunshine”, the media was able to soak up some of what was on offer.
From a designated tour of the 28-bedroom Skylark Resort and on-property Miss Lily’s restaurant, to lunch at the nearby Island Lux Beach Park in Negril, journalists had a first-hand view of some of the amenities, food and friendly customer service on offer in that part of the island.
From boiled dumplings and banana and steamed veg, and ackee and saltfish for breakfast, to jerk chicken, rice and peas or escovitch fish and bammy (fried cassava) for lunch or dinner, visitors have an opportunity to sample their favourite authentic Jamaican meal any day of the week.
With the tantalizing flavours, friendly residents, pulsating local music and a variety of adventure and nightlife entertainment, there is something for everyone to take part in.
There is just one problem, it is very easy for anyone on a business trip to slip into vacation mode.
Among the experiences, the media group also took part in an educational tour of the historic Hampden Estate in the parish of Trelawny, one of the island’s oldest rum estates, visited the National Museum west, in Sam Sharp Square, Montego Bay as well as the Tracks and Records restaurant in the same parish.
The Caribbean Travel Marketplace is the leading event in the Caribbean tourism industry where delegates from Caribbean countries meet with buyers from more than 20 markets.
This year, the event hosted the largest group of buyers in its history from the widest number of countries. Sixty new buyer companies out of about 145 joined the conference this year and CHTA welcomed the largest contingent of Chinese travel buyers to date along with new buyer companies from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, India, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Poland, Puerto Rico, St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the US.
Tourist officials in Jamaica say they are making a major push to get more Chinese visitors to that island.
Director of the JTB Donovan White said as the island continues to grow its tourism product more focus would be placed on gastronomy tourism, sports tourism, entertainment tourism, knowledge tourism and cultural tourism.
“Those five pillars have been the bedrock of our strategy all of last year and will be for the foreseeable future as we continue to reshape, reposition and retarget our destination to be more far-reaching of an experience for people who take their vacation here,” said White.
Meanwhile, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmond Bartlett said while he was eager to see more people from all over the world going to Jamaica and the rest of the region, he had some major concerns.
Bartlett said he wanted to see the Caribbean retaining more of what tourists spend, more entrepreneurs to benefit from the spoils of the tourism industry and for regional economies to lower their debt to gross domestic product.
“Clearly we see that tourism, with its enormous capacity for economic development, suffers from leakage phenomena. And our job today is to commence that discussion of how do we create the linkages to stem the leakages in tourism,” he told the over 1,000 guests as he welcomed them to “the best destination on planet earth” for the opening of the Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2019.
Last year the region welcomed some 30 million visitors and earned over US$30 billion in revenue.
The tourism industry is estimated to contribute about 40 per cent of the region’s GDP.