Travel Agent recently chatted with Donovan G. White, Jamaica's new director of tourism, and asked him everything from his main goals as the country's new tourism director to the state of Montego Bay and more.
Here are the highlights from that interview.
Despite a state of emergency in the destination earlier this year, White told Travel Agent that Montego Bay's tourism continues to grow year-over-year.
"Montego Bay actually continues to grow and thrive,” say White, “and we think that has a lot to do with travelers who understand that Montego Bay is safe and secure, and easy to get to. And a lot of the security issues that were being reported on did not affect tourists.”
Earlier this year, Jamaica Prime Minister Andrew Holness declared a state of emergency in St. James Parish as a result of an increase in murders and shootings in the area. During that time, several sections of the crime-infested parish of St. James were occupied with members of the Jamaica Defence Force, as they searched properties and people. Last year, some 335 murders were recorded in St. James, and at least four people have been murdered in that western parish since the start of the year, according to the Jamaica Observer report.
On January 10, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 2 travel advisory urging travelers to “exercise increased caution in Jamaica due to crime.” The advisory came as part of an update to how the State Department shares travel safety information for all destinations.
"It was really on us to explain to people why these advisories were made and about the State Department's new system," says White. "We had to make it clear to people that the destination is safe and that having more a security presence in Montego Bay was a good thing."
The Growth of All-Inclusives
White says one of the main factors behind Jamaica's continued success is its ongoing influx of top-notch all-inclusive resorts.
"All-inclusives and the perception of all-inclusives have changed and they continue to get better and better," says White. "The growth in Jamaica is something we are really proud of. Sandals [Resorts International] was the first to really have success here and now you see so many other hotel companies aggressively expanding to Jamaica from [Karisma Hotels & Resorts'] Sugar Cane development to Playa's recent deal to acquire Jewel Resorts."
Playa Hotels & Resorts completed a “business combination” with Sagicor Group Jamaica Limited, whereby Sagicor contributed to Playa a portfolio of five all-inclusive resorts and two adjacent oceanfront developable land sites on the North Coast of Jamaica.
The portfolio comprises four existing resorts, including the 495-room Hilton Rose Hall, the 268-room Jewel Runaway Bay, the 250-room Jewel Dunn’s River and the 225-room Jewel Paradise Cove.
It also includes an 88-room hotel tower and spa, two developable land sites with a potential density of up to 700 rooms and a hotel management contract for the Jewel Grande Montego Bay. The existing assets were previously managed by an external third-party operator, but Playa assumed management of the assets on the closing of the transaction.
Consideration for such assets was comprised of 20 million shares of Playa’s common stock and $100 million in cash, subject to certain post-closing adjustments. In addition, two individuals nominated by Sagicor and recently elected by Playa’s shareholders at Playa’s annual meeting, joined Playa’s Board of Directors upon the consummation of the transaction.
“The closing of this transaction with Sagicor elevates Playa into a strategically dominant position in Jamaica, diversifies our resorts portfolio and will allow for several years of strong profit growth as we execute our rebranding, expansion and renovation projects,” said Bruce Wardinski, chairman and CEO of Playa Hotels & Resorts, in a written release.
Playa currently owns and operates the Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall and Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall in Jamaica. This new business combination with Sagicor will make Playa one of the largest resort owners and operators in Jamaica – both in the total number of rooms and number of brands under management.
Travel Agent was on hand in 2016 for a monumental signing between Karisma Hotels & Resorts and the Jamaica Tourist Board. The deal was officially signed by Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica's minister of tourism, and Ruben Becerra, vice president of corporate affairs and business development for Premiere Worldwide Marketing, the exclusive worldwide sales and marketing representative for Karisma Hotels & Resorts, at the historic Devon House.
Dubbed "Sugar Cane," the resort represents an investment of more than $100 million, Rafael Feliz, Jr., corporate brand manager for Premier Worldwide Marketing, told Travel Agent. It calls for 10 new Karisma Hotels & Resorts properties representing 5,000 new rooms in Jamaica.
As far as his top priorities as tourism director go, White told us an increased digital marketing presence is at the top of his to-do list. In fact, White told Travel Agent that the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) is looking to add a portal to its website that would give both advisors and clients a first-hand look at the destination 24/7.
“For me, my primary goal is how do we rearrange our assets, how can we become more technology efficient?" asks White. "We are focusing more and more on that with digital marketing being a big part of our focus.”
Meet Donovan White
White officially took over the director of tourism role on February 15. White brings to the JTB more than 20 years of experience as a senior executive in marketing and business development.
Prior to joining the JTB, White served as vice president of Cable & Wireless Business, Jamaica, where he consistently achieved double-digit growth in revenue throughout his tenure. Before that, White served as vice president, marketing, sales and media services at Columbus Communications Jamaica Limited (FLOW), leading commercial teams to deliver revenue growth.
Other positions held by White include general manager of Caledonia Outdoor Advertising Limited, and at the Digicel Group Limited, where he served as marketing director for Jamaica, Guyana and the northern part of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS). He also served as vice president, sales and marketing for the CVM Communications Group Limited.
An avid sportsman, White won many medals at the annual National Boy’s Championship during his secondary school years. Currently, he is a director of the Premier League Clubs Association and co-chair of the marketing subcommittee of the Jamaica Football Federation.
White is a graduate of the University of New Orleans, where he earned an undergraduate degree in marketing, followed by an executive MBA from the Telecoms Academy in the United Kingdom.