Valued travel partners, members of the worldwide media, colleagues and associates, ladies and gentlemen… welcome, and thank you all for joining me here today at The Caribbean Hotel Association Marketplace 2008.
This conference gives me the opportunity to meet with you, and to underscore that it is your invaluable support that positions Jamaica to gain continued acknowledgement and recognition as a leader in tourism worldwide.
At CTC in Puerto Rico last October, and more recently in London at the World Travel Market, I was delighted to present an outline of our plans to continue growing and enhancing our Jamaican tourism product.
We’re making great strides, and there’s a lot to tell. So I’d like to take this opportunity to give you an update on our progress, which extends to strengthening our infrastructure and expanding our product in terms of airport and cruise port facilities, roads and highways, transportation centres, accommodations and attractions.
Tourist Arrival Figures on the Rise
Jamaica’s tourist arrivals are back on an upward curve. As at the end of October 2007, the final figures for stopover arrivals indicate a marginal increase 0.6% over 2006, which was itself a record-breaking year. Preliminary figures for November indicate growth of 4.4 %, and 3% in December. Based on current projections, Jamaica will show an increase in stopover arrivals of at least 1.1 % over the record-breaking arrivals of 2006.
Furthermore, we’re elated to see that preliminary figures for this month are already looking exceptionally strong. These indicate an estimated increase in stopover arrivals of 7 % in the first seven days of January compared with the same period last year!
In the area of cruise, while tourist arrivals in 2007 were down by 11.9 % from 2006, we made big strides in enhancing our cruise product. Our efforts have already been spectacularly rewarded; the World Travel Awards named Jamaica the world’s top cruise destination for two consecutive years, 2006 and 2007.
We’re clearly moving in the right direction, and we are preparing to welcome significantly more cruise ship visitors in the near future. I’ll be telling you shortly about the work in progress to expand and improve our port facilities.
As Jamaica’s popularity continues to grow among tourists on all continents, investment in expansion and additional development is strengthening the island’s infrastructure, enhancing existing properties and adding well designed new construction in strategic locations.
Jamaica continues to ensure diversity in its offerings to visitors by introducing more attractions and accommodations that cater to a range of tastes, from high-end to budget.
I do emphasize that no development will be permitted to overtax the infrastructure or jeopardize the island’s natural resources. We will not permit escalated erosion of our island under any circumstances, for the land is our product, our home, our future.
The Spruce Up Jamaica Programme
Maintaining the product and keeping it in top shape is a priority; and to ensure that, we have completed a “sprucing up” of several of our resort areas, and are continuing to pay strictly focused attention to environmental protection. Cleaning and painting have provided a fresh look, and new landscaping has added color and beauty to these areas.
I’m thrilled to report that our residents joined in the process with an unprecedented level of energy and enthusiasm. It was a major display of solidarity, inspired by a true passion for our land. And this tells me that our residents are not only with us in this important venture, but are eager to be a part of the action and a major force in completing the task.
Expansion of Both Our International Airports
At Norman Manley International Airport, Kingston, major expansion is progressing rapidly in a joint venture between NMIA Airports Limited and parent company Airports Authority of Jamaica. With work scheduled in three phases through 2008 and a total budget of approximately US$139 million, the development is adding facilities to expedite ticketing and check-in for travelers, and will add new departure and airline lounges, several new halls, advanced technology, new retail and food-and-beverage concessions, and more.
Here’s a run-down of our progress with Phases 1A and 1B, scheduled for completion
this year at a cost of approximately US$98 million and US$26 million respectively. Phase 2 is budgeted at US$15 million.
Completed to date:
§ A new two-level passenger pier now enables the separation of arriving and departing passengers.
§ Four new passenger loading bridges also have been added.
The addition of 66 airline check-in positions is complete, with 23 common user passenger processing systems (CUPPS) enabled.
The most current airport technology has been installed at the gates.
Currently in work:
Renovation of the former check-in hall.
A new departure lounge on the upper floor with expanded retail and food facilities.
Expanded area for outbound Immigration (following on the opening of the new lounge) and security screening stations.
Major rehabilitation and upgrading of the terminal arrivals area, including the Immigration hall, Customs hall and reception area.
A new ground transportation hall.
Coming up fast:
Departure concourse, slated for end of March/early April.
Renovations to the arrivals area by March.
At Sangster International Airport, Montego Bay, a multi-phased expansion and upgrading of facilities is being implemented by MBJ Airports Limited, which operates the airport. Work is already complete on Customs, Immigration and arrivals areas, 11 new gates, and a new retail area featuring 32 new outlets. On track for completion in September this year are several new and renovated structures to house ground transportation and baggage claim.
Now that we are so well equipped at our airports, the time is clearly ripe for a renaissance of JAMVAC, or Jamaica Vacations, which was created in the early 1970s to open new gateways for Jamaica. This was done not through scheduled airline service, but through charters, with the result that several existing routes are now served by diverse international carriers to Jamaica.
When the Jamaican Government decided in 2005 to consolidate many of its public entities in a programme known as the “Public Sector Rationalization Programme” JAMVAC was one of its causalities and ceased operations.
However, as a legal entity with commercial capability, JAMVAC was never actually wound up, and I’m very pleased to tell you that the company is active again with a newly formed board of directors chaired by John Lynch. As you know, Mr. Lynch serves also as chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board.
So JAMVAC is poised for action, opening the door to valuable new opportunities for Jamaica’s tourism. At this time of growth in investment, both in the accommodations sector and in attractions development, JAMVAC is an important tool that can provide a competitive edge for Jamaica, opening up new markets for tourism.
Highways and Transportation Centres
Road improvements islandwide will support traffic flow and shorten cross-island driving for residents and visitors. This year, work will be completed on North Coast Highway, specifically on sections between Montego Bay and Falmouth, and between St. Mary and Portland. Hot off the press: I’m happy to give you the news that the section from Montego Bay Airport to Seacastles opened yesterday to traffic in both directions. Going forward, work on Highway 2000 and tangential roads will create six lanes and improve drainage along two of the main thoroughfares in Kingston.
Two new transportation centres will provide added comfort and convenience for travelers. A municipal transport centre opens this coming week in Half Way Tree, built at a cost of approximately US$67 million. The double-level centre includes passenger holding areas and spacious bus bays, which can also accommodate taxis. There are also facilities for 17 commercial shops, a 900-foot food court, commercial kiosks, public bathrooms with two equipped for the disabled, and an office building.
A second transportation centre is planned for downtown Kingston. The project is currently awaiting final approval and should be completed within six months.
I’m pleased to tell you that the Port Authority of Jamaica is now in the advanced stages of completing plans for Falmouth Cruise Ship Pier, to be opened in September 2009. The new pier is expected to welcome the 5,400-passenger Royal Caribbean Genesis in November 2009, and will have the capacity to handle two Genesis-size ships simultaneously. The cruise terminal and shops will be themed around the Georgian architecture.
Improvements have been made also to both the Montego Bay and Ocho Rios cruise ship piers, including the conversion of Montego Bay’s Berth 2 Terminal to a comfortable air-conditioned area for cruise passengers.
Accommodations, Attractions and Shopping
As many of you are aware, over the last three years, the number of hotel rooms in Jamaica has been increasing at a rapid rate, with our room stock primarily associated with large and more luxurious developments along the island’s North Coast. This is expected to continue, and to increase at an average of 4,600 rooms per year, bringing Jamaica’s room stock to 75,000 by 2015.
Let me give you a brief update of developments and expansions by region.
RIU Ocho Rios opened a 785-square-foot conference centre in November 2007, offering five meeting rooms that can accommodate groups from 50 persons to 340 theatre-style in its Grand Ballroom.
Goldeneye is adding a multi-million dollar high-end resort village to its exclusive resort in Oracabessa, St Mary. Completion of the mixed-use residential and full-service resort is set for late 2008 and will feature 170 guest rooms spread over 100 acres of coastal land. The project will operate under a timeshare model and will integrate the surrounding ecology using a Mediterranean design, offering a marina, spa, swimming pools, a lagoon and offshore bar.
Attractions & Tours
Construction is in progress for Mystic Mountain, near Dunn’s River. This attraction will allow visitors to experience rainforest terrain from 700 feet above sea level. Features will include a bobsled coaster ride and an aerial tramway canopy tour. Completion is anticipated by May this year.
The contribution of Rastafari is expected to be honoured at Rasta Village. The new attraction will showcase authentic Rastafarian music, food and experiences.
§ The Harbour Shops located just across from Island Village are expected to open this March. The centre will feature seven luxury shops and a restaurant showcasing the finest in duty-free shopping and entertainment.
The Palmyra Resort & Spa, the island’s first luxury beachfront residential community, located on 16 acres of pristine waterfront land on the Rose Hall estate, has sold off all the residencies on the Sabal Palm building. Reservation holders from around the world traveled to Montego Bay in May to attend the Priority Selection Event at the neighbouring Ritz Carlton Rose Hall. The event resulted not only in a complete sell-out of the Sabal Palm building, but additionally a significant number of residences in the Silver Palm building were also sold. Both buildings form part of the development’s first phase and are due to be opened by June 2008. The resort village will comprise 550 one-, two- and three-bedroom condominiums plus three-bedroom villas. This private-home community will have a convention centre, golf course, shopping centre and a world-class ESPA, presenting an exciting new spa concept that marries traditional and cutting-edge new techniques for the ultimate in rejuvenating treatments.
The Spanish chain Iberostar Hotels & Resorts completed the first phase of its Jamaican development by opening with 366 rooms in May 2007. Phase 2 is to be completed in May this year, and Phase 3 in December. On completion, the US$850-million development will provide a total of 950 rooms.
RIU Montego Bay is now under construction in Ironshore. The 700-room resort is scheduled to open this September and will be the fourth RIU property in Jamaica.
The 1600-room Fiesta Hotel in Hanover, now under construction, is expected to be completed later this year.
Hillshire Hotel, formerly the Executive Inn, has been refurbished with new amenities and services. Kats, a new club/sports bar, is also part of the hotel’s new look.
Attractions & Tours
A unique and interactive cultural experience is offered at Outameni, located approximately two miles from Falmouth. This new attraction was officially opened in September 2007. The hosts bring the nation’s rich cultural history alive with a journey through time, covering periods of Spanish occupation, colonization, slavery, emancipation and the arrival of indentured labourers. This virtual journey is presented by talented performers who sing, act and dance while interacting with visitors.
Jamspeed Rally Experience, the first full-blown performance driving school in the region, is located at Spot Valley Entertainment Complex in the Rose Hall area, with its main attraction being the Co-Driver’s Experience. Visitors enjoy an on-the-limit drive from the passenger seat, covering one of the country’s best dirt circuits. In use are a Peugeot 206 GTI/SW, Mitsubishi Evolution III and Subaru Impreza STI V5. These competitive vehicles allow visitors to experience the same adrenaline rush as a co-driver in a real-life high-speed rally race. The tour is run in both directions of the track and can be lengthened to a 6-km stage around the property.
Chukka Caribbean introduced its signature morning tour, Misty Morning, at Montpelier Estate in October 2008. The tour, with an environmentally friendly flavour, begins at 6:15 a.m. and includes a canopy adventure and Jamaican breakfast/brunch.
Additional Attractions & Tours expected in 2008/2009
o Lucea in the Sky – a bicycle tour taking visitors through local communities, highlighting cottage industries, local heritage, flora and fauna. The tour is expected to open by Summer 2008.
o Dolphin Head Hike & Botanical Gardens – an eco-friendly soft-adventure tour expected to open in Summer 2008.
o Veronica Park – this mini adventure park for the young and young-at-heart will have as its main attractions skating, river/wading pool, ferris wheel and go-kart track. This facility is expected to be opened by late 2008.
o Two Hills Falls – a waterfall and nature park offering hiking, caving and picnics by the waterfalls. The expected opening is late 2008.
o Sam Sharpe Village – this community walking tour in the historic Catadupa Village is scheduled to open in 2009.
The chic new luxury shopping experience of Montego Bay, the Shoppes of Rose Hall, opened its doors in November 2007. The complex features 30 shops and two restaurants – Café Blue and Habibi Latino. A third restaurant, offering a fine dining experience, is planned in late 2008.
NEGRIL & THE SOUTH COAST
JAM-X (Jamaica Extreme) Tours at Paradise Park – this one-hour journey on a dune buggy takes visitors on an adventure through Paradise Park Plantation in Westmoreland. Paradise Park has a rich history dating back to the late 1700s and is currently a working plantation with cattle and water buffalos. The tour opened in December 2007.
Seaford Town Museum & Walking Tour
Major work is now underway to convert the Spanish Court from a small shopping complex into a business hotel. This property is located in the heart of the New Kingston business district and should open in late 2008.
§ The Redevelopment of the Titchfield Peninsula is expected to begin in 2008. The joint project involving several private- and public-sector stakeholders is expected to see improvements in sidewalks, addition of cafés and nightlife facilities, and more.
§ The upscale Trident Hotel is currently undergoing major renovations. Expected changes include upgraded rooms and villas, food-and-beverage and other facilities. The Port Antonio landmark is set to reopen in late 2008.
New Hospitality School in Montego Bay
Of course, with so much activity and growth, we’re looking very closely at the question of staffing our wonderful range of hotels, and of attracting and training new talent. Our plans include the launch of a new hospitality training school in Montego Bay, scheduled to be operational by the end of 2009. Right on track, our specially appointed task force is currently completing research and feasibility studies to determine best possible size, location and facilities.
Our curricula will be geared to students from Jamaica and the Caribbean Region, offering courses that illustrate the importance of tourism as a key driver of the region’s economy, and that fully communicate the concept of service. We’ll provide hands-on courses to foster and strengthen management skills, and also to expose entry-level students to a professional managerial environment.
Our recruitment programmes will demonstrate the abundant rewards of a career in tourism, with the potential for excellent remuneration and benefits, plus the unparalleled experience and education of global travel. For investors, this dynamic new training facility will open up an accessible source of talent, eliminating the costs involved in importing management candidates from overseas.
Always a prime event on the tourism calendar, JAPEX will be held this year in Kingston, from April 25 through 27. During JAPEX, Jamaica will launch an island-wide program called Boonoonoonoos.
Boonoonoonoos is a cleverly designed, upbeat fall promotion with a lot of inspiring components. For implementation in August, it will include a series of special events for tour operators, travel agents and press, all free and filled with hot action.
Ladies and gentlemen, in closing, I want to thank you once more for your continued support. While we design our tourism product and marketing strategies to reflect new and emerging trends, as well as new consumer demands, we never lose sight of the critical importance of our relationship with YOU, our most revered travel partners.
It would be my pleasure to welcome you to Jamaica this year so that you may experience first-hand the extraordinary beauty and fascination of our island.
Why not come for the Air Jamaica Jazz and Blues Festival taking place just 10 days from now, January 24 to 27?
Or come in February, which Prime Minister Golding announced at a press conference just this past week is to be declared Reggae Month. It’s new, it’s a fabulous opportunity to see Jamaica in full swing, and it’s another poignant example of how our destination is growing in stature as the Caribbean’s most fascinating island.
Of course, I know you’ll be back again, whenever you decide to come.
Because it’s Jamaica.
Because Once You Go…You Know.