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Jamaica’s Agent InvasionOctober 19, 2010 By: Joe Pike Travel Agent
The Jamaica Tourist Board hosted 2,000 travel agents in a month’s time to experience the island’s latest attractions.
If Jamaica’s tagline—“once you go, you know”—is true, then 2,000 U.S. agents now “know.” Travel Agent was on hand earlier this month for the last of four fam trips that had 500 agents each heading to Montego Bay to find out what makes Jamaica a hot sell.
In just one month, 2,000 agents had visited Jamaica. This was the largest number of agents to converge in the country in such a short span of time. “We’ve never done something like this before, so it’s a great feeling to see that it couldn’t have gone any better,” says Director of Tourism John Lynch. “Agents are very excited about selling Jamaica. We know agents are the backbone of our tourism industry and with programs like this, we are making sure it stays that way.”
“We needed [agents] to come here and see that what happened a few months ago is in the past and will stay in the past,” says Edmund Bartlett, referring to gang-related violence in Kingston in late May.
The 2,000-agent fly-in was the culmination of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s (JTB) Wish You Were Here education series. Agents were flown in to the island to experience and learn firsthand about the new products that have come up in various resort areas. The fly-ins were part of a campaign to raise awareness and to ensure bookings to Jamaica continue during fall and winter. The fams took place September 10-13, 17-20 and 24-27, and October 1-4.
“The JTB has always had a good, aggressive approach toward the travel agency community,” says Jeff Altman, CEO/owner of VIP Cruises & Travel in West Orange, NJ. “Anytime there is a negative perception they have had a proactive approach.”
The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa
As part of our coverage of Jamaica’s recently concluded Wish You Were Here education series, Travel Agent had the opportunity to visit one of the country’s newest resorts, The Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort & Spa. This 250-room resort, which opened in early September, is perfect for couples. Don’t necessarily rule out families, but guests need to be at least 18 years of age. Five miles west of Ocho Rios, the resort is a 75-minute drive from the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay.
A full-service European spa, a nine-hole golf course, six bars, two pools and two swim-up bars are some of the highlights. Other amenities on the 25-acre resort include a gift shop, a 24-hour open-air fitness center, pool tables, and volleyball and tennis courts.
The rooms are split into eight different categories. The best room, we think, is the Honeymoon Haven One Bedroom Oceanfront Suite. This 855-square-foot room comes with a large balcony and living area, a wet bar with top-shelf liquor, a whirlpool tub, walk-in closets and butler service.
A close second is the 827-square-foot One Bedroom Ocean View Suite, which includes two smaller balconies, a living area, a wet bar, a whirlpool tub, walk-in closets and butler service. Agents should contact Sales Manager Sharleen Senior at [email protected].
The opening celebration of the Jamaica Tourist Board’s last of the series of four fam trips was held on Sandals’ Royal Caribbean Island.
The Enchanted Gardens
We toured what could be the next hot destination wedding spot in Jamaica, The Enchanted Gardens in Ocho Rios. Originally The Enchanted Garden Resort and Spa, which has been around since 1991, was a secluded area of natural waterfalls, flowers, hidden coves and an impressive bird aviary. The resort closed down in 2000 because it wasn’t viable. While it remained open to the public for tours, it wasn’t until about two months after ownership changed that the property began aggressively promoting itself.
There are 14 natural waterfalls at Enchanted Gardens and a rainforest with more than 100 types of plants, but perhaps the most interesting part of the property is the aviary, home to about 20 different species of birds. Its new owners expect to have at least 50 species in all.
We’ve seen bird sanctuaries before, but never one quite as “interactive” as this. Guests can walk in and have the staff take pictures as birds begin to land on their hands, shoulders and even head if they are bold enough. Or if you are terrified of birds, like us, you could stand at the back or outside the aviary, shoot some pictures and simply enjoy the beauty.
“What we are aiming to do is give the cruise passengers in the area something to do with their families,” Dr. Howard Reid, managing director of Science, Research and Innovation, the parent company of Enchanted Gardens, told Travel Agent. “There aren’t really a lot of family-oriented activities to do in this area. So, hopefully this will be the spot for families to visit.”
As far as weddings go, only about one or two weddings, usually involving locals, are held here every month, but there are plans to turn this into a popular destination wedding venue. Reid told us the upgrade will be a two-phase, roughly $6.5 million project.
The first phase, which will be completed by December, will introduce new restrooms and decks in addition to a refurbished swimming pool and wedding reception hall. The main addition at the end of the second phase in June will be a natural history museum.
“We really think we will [not only] have everything we need to make this a great wedding spot, but also a place where people can learn about and enjoy some of the natural wonders of the area,” Reid says.
A tour usually takes about an hour and costs $20 for adults and $10 for children. There are just two guides on staff at the moment, but we expect that number to grow as the facility begins to gain some more attention from the travel industry.
The restaurant on property that closed along with the original resort in 2000 will be restored by December but will not serve guests until about June. Dining as a man-made waterfall flows around the tables will only add to the relaxing feel of the property.
The 855-squarefoot Honeymoon Haven One Bedroom Oceanfront Suite is the best accommodation at the Jewel Dunn’s resort.
The Enchanted Gardens offers agents a 10 percent commission. It is also looking to partner with several tour operators. Although the property doesn’t expect to have accommodation in the immediate future, it partners with local hotels when it hosts large groups and weddings.
Montego Bay Conference Centre
It was a bold move when the JTB announced earlier this year that it will host Caribbean Marketplace 2011 at the Montego Bay Conference Centre, which only broke ground in mid-March of last year.
One of 14 natural waterfalls at The Enchanted Gardens in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Proclaiming to have what will likely be the largest conference center in the Caribbean ready in under two years was a pretty tall order. But, after a recent visit to the site, we found the building, in fact, is about 70 to 80 percent complete, with only the landscaping still to be done. The center will have more than 50,000 square feet of exhibition space; 20,000 square feet of banquet facility; and more than 11,000 square feet of meeting space.
And what better time to unveil it than at the 2011 Caribbean Marketplace, one of the region’s most important trade shows—a three-day event, organized by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA). It will be held from January 16-18.
“Caribbean Marketplace is often called the Caribbean’s most important trade show and any destination that hosts it, usually benefits greatly from it,” says JTB’s Lynch. “So we are really excited to show off the convention center during this time.”
The center will open by December 15, but some minor work will still remain. It is expected to be fully operational by January 31. The facility, opposite the Shoppes at Rose Hall (between the Half Moon Golf Course and Rose Hall Great House), is aimed at strengthening Jamaica’s participation in the growing groups and conventions market.