29th Caribbean Tourism Conference: Jamaica

THE BAHAMAS–Jamaica basked in the glow of good news, impressive development and remarkable awards during a press conference at the 29th Caribbean Tourism Conference: "Visitor arrivals were exceptionally high for the first nine months of 2006, posting an increase of 17.2 percent over last year," said Jamaica's Minister of Tourism, Entertainment & Culture, the Hon. Aloun N'dombet Assamba. Last month, at the 13th Annual World Travel Awards, Jamaica won a number of awards, including "Caribbean's Leading Destination." Perhaps the most interesting award was Jamaica being named "World's Leading Cruise Destination and the Caribbean's Leading Cruise Destination (Port Authority of Jamaica)." This is an enviable position for the island to be in, considering the leg up the cruise industry is getting regarding the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requiring U.S. citizens to have U.S. passports when returning from the Caribbean. Given the favorable status cruise companies are receiving, visits from cruise passengers will become even more important to the bottom lines of many Caribbean destinations.

Assamba outlined a full slate of impressive tourism projects, including an $80 million expansion of Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, expected to be completed by March 2007. The minister noted the island currently has 23,000 rooms; by March 2007 an additional 2,000 will be added, with a total of 12,000 new rooms would coming on stream within the next four years. This winter, Hotel Bahia Principe, near Pear Tree, will open 700 rooms with the completion of the first of three phases; when completed, the hotel will total 1,918 rooms. In Montego Bay, the Spanish chain Riu will open a fourth Jamaica property, Riu Mahoe Bay. The Harmony Cove resort will include a combination of luxury resort hotels with more than 2,000 rooms, as well as spas, golf courses, restaurants and shops.Jamaica is also reaching out to the disabled market with the inauguration of a new program certifying properties as being "Disabled Friendly Hotels." The program will rate hotels as Platinum, Gold or Silver. Look for the island to expand on this concept with a "Friendly Cities Program" that will rate cities according to how disabled-friendly they are.

This spring, Jamaica will host World Cup Cricket, a tremendously popular event that will severely tax the island's availability of rooms. In response to this need, the island has instituted a Host Program in resident's homes. Currently the program numbers 500 rooms in 160 homes. The tourism board is working closely with these homes to ensure proper standard of service and food handling are met. Prices will range from $35 to $70 per night. A traditional Jamaican or International-style breakfast will be included in the price. Guests will also have the option of negotiating additional meals with the homeowner. One aspect of the program is the opportunity it presents for Jamaican citizens to become involved in tourism. (MR)

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