By Renese Johnson (*)

Jamaica’s groundbreaking 2015 tourism growth and healthy future pipeline

Renese Johnson is the President and CEO of Vanguard Leisure Consulting, an advisory firm focused on the Leisure, Hospitality & Gaming industries with a specialization in the Caribbean and Latin America.

She is currently an active member of the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association as well as Global Gaming Women and serves as a guest columnist for the Orlando Business Journal, Yogonet International and Cuba Journal.

Contacto: [email protected]

Jamaica 
| 26/01/2016

2015 was another great year for Jamaica tourism. The Country has proven its ability to keep its trigger on the pulse in driving continual tourist growth.

They rank third overall in the Caribbean for tourist arrivals, following closely after Dominican Republic and Cuba. Having surpassed the two million mark in visitation in 2013, Jamaica represents one of only four countries in the region to have accomplished this fete.

According Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, Dr. Wykeham McNeill, the first nine months of 2015 surpassed that of 2014 during the same time period by more than 5%. Given this estimate and historical tourist trends in Jamaica, we at Vanguard Leisure Consulting estimate that total tourist arrivals (both stopover and cruise) to have been approximately 3.7 million in 2015.

Assuming normative economic conditions, by 2017 we project visitation could easily surpass 4.3 million given the various new hospitality developments in the pipeline which have already helped contribute to 2015’s growth. While there have been a number of factors that Jamaica has benefited from in just being a part of the Caribbean, the items below point specifically to initiatives and projects within Jamaica that have (and are anticipated to) increase arrivals and foreign investment:

  • The Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). Established over 10 years ago to help revitalize Jamaican tourism, the funds are predominately use for the ‘beautification’ of various heritage sites and improvements to public infrastructure mostly along the northern coast. Among other things, the fund currently is supporting two major multimillion projects to help enhance certain tourist districts right now: The Falmouth Streetscape Improvement Project, a $2.8 million revamp of the Town’s main hub, Water Square. Then there is the $3.4 million project to conduct major renovations to the ever popular Ocho Rios resort district, which is set to include improvements to its cruise terminal.
  • The development of Falmouth Cruise port. Having experienced unprecedented growth in it is short time in operation, the terminal brings in nearly half a billion passengers annually. Since opening in 2011, cruise arrivals in Jamaica have increased, making them one of the only countries in the Caribbean to experience growth during that time. After a decline in 2013, cruise arrivals quickly rebounded with passenger growth at 12.5% in 2014. Today, Falmouth has become the most popular port on the Island for tourism. While some have alluded it to cannibalization from other ports, Countrywide, cruise arrivals to Jamaica have increased at a compounded average growth rate (“CAGR”) of nearly 12% from 2010 to 2014, reflecting induced growth. This helps create opportunities in overnight tourism growth as well as cruise trips often serve as precursor for tourists to ‘get a taste’ of and Island and later incentify them to pursue a stopover arrival.
  • Increasing airlift averaging 60,000 in total. This has largely catered to the lucrative U.S. feeder market. It is also worth noting that European stopover visitation to the Country has grown by nearly double digits year over year since 2011. This is predominately related to the continual increase in flights to Europe, particularly in the Nordic region. In fact, beginning 2016, Jamaica will begin offering direct flights from Dublin, Ireland. In addition to this, there has been the ongoing surge in air travel to the Caribbean by veteran airlines to the region such as Jet Blue as well as newcomers, such as Southwest. Jamaica has benefited from this growing recognition of the overall region’s popularity as a worldwide tourist destination.
  • In the last quarter of 2015 and by first quarter 2016, Jamaica’s hotel pipeline has and will bring in between 1,600 - 2,600 new rooms to the Island according to the Honorable Dr. McNeill. Some of these projects, as well as future investments (which have largely come from Spanish and Latin American corporations), include the following:
    Marriott’s recent opening of the 129-room Courtyard in Kingston, Jamaica. Aside from being the first LEED-certified building in the Country as well as being operated by a Major U.S. Hotel Brand, the development is also one of first new hotel openings in Kingston in nearly three decades.
  • Palace Resorts – an upscale, all-inclusive Mexican-based hotel company – reecently purchased the Sunset Jamaica Grande, conducting a $210 million renovation to the property which is now known as Moon Palace Jamaica Grande. Opening in Ocho Rios in July 2015, the resort marks the first Palace hotel opening outside of Mexico and features over 700 guest rooms. In December 2015, Executive Vice President of Palace Resorts, Mr. Gibran Chapur, announced ‘plans to acquire new properties [on the Island] in order to build new hotels’.
  • Not skipping a beat with the buzz around Medical Tourism, in October 2015, Jamaica opened its first state-of-the-art private hospital in Rose hall, St James. Catering largely to tourist-driven interests, the $2.3 billion dollar development features 22 in-patient hospital beds, eight outpatient rooms and two operating rooms. The project was established by the Hospiten Group, an international private hospital corporation based in Spain.
  • In November 2015, Oceans by H10 Hotels – A Spanish and a Canadian Joint venture – along with Spanish and Jamaican businessmen Carlos Moleon and Fredrik Moe, have joined forces to develop two five star hotels in Trelawney. Scheduled to open in 2018, the hotels will add 800 new rooms to the Country in the form one five star all-inclusive resort (425 rooms) and another Adults-only five star resort (375 rooms). These properties are anticipated to bring in a new subset of luxury guests to Jamaica, shifting the Island’s dynamic from a predominately family-friendly all-inclusive playground. While this image has certainly worked well for Jamaica, Officials also know and are responding to the need to diversify hotel offerings in order to attract a broader base and more lucrative sector of tourists.
  • Mexican-based Karisma Hotels & Resorts – best known for their El Dorado and Azul brands – currently owns and operates the luxury resort Sensatori Jamaica in Negril. Upon opening in late 2013, the property sold out its first year less than a month after opening. Realizing Jamaica’s tourism potential, Karisma has recently plans to invest $900 million in Llandovery, St. Ann, along the northern coast of Jamaica to build nine hotels comprising of an estimated 4,000 new guest rooms to be built over the next eight to ten years. The hotels will include several brands with the first to debut some time in 2017 or 2018. Known for their upscale properties, these developments will not only substantially increase hotel supply in the Country, they too will help attract more high-end guests with a healthy portfolio of existing hotels and a database of full of global clientele.
  • Most significantly has been the recent announcement in January of the two Casino Integrated Resorts – Harmony Cove and Celebration Limited -- set to break ground in summer 2016. Both with plans to construct in phases, the properties will develop the first 1,000 rooms, then open up of their luxury casinos before entering the second phase of development with another 1,000 rooms, satisfying the minimum requirements as noted in the 2010 Casino Act. Robert Trotta, who is leading the 75-acre Celebration Jamaica Resort development set in the Montego Bay area, has noted that the development will be themed around music and entertainment “celebrating Jamaican music and everything Jamaican’. Harmony Cove is set to break ground in Trelawney, near the popular Falmouth Terminal. Once fully operational, the development is anticipated to be more than a 2,300 acre site. Once completed, both properties development costs are set to reach exceed $3 billion.

Given these major highlights noted above here’, the Island presents a very strong message to investors across the Globe: Jamaica has a clear mission to improve its overall tourism product on every level. In enhancing its perception as a major tourist destination, they have experienced measurable and sustainable tourism growth over the last few years with various multimillion hospitality projects in its pipeline. As an obvious hot spot for tourist development, Jamaica is a Country to keep one’s eye on.

By Renese Johnson

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