Jamaica is Jumping

Jamaica is basking in the glow of good news, impressive development and remarkable awards. Visitor arrivals were exceptionally high for the first nine months of 2006, posting an increase of 17.2 percent over that period of 2005.

On January 1, 2007, Delta will increase service from Atlanta to Montego Bay for a total of two daily flights. And beginning January 2, 2007, Ryan International Airlines is increasing service from St. Louis to Montego Bay, to three flights per week. Travelers must book through Funjet Vacations (www.funjet.com) or Worry-Free Vacations (www.worryfreevacations.com).

Lover's Leap, on the southern coast of Jamaica

The island is in the midst of a slew of tourism projects, including an $80-million expansion of Norman Manley Airport in Kingston, expected to be completed by March 2007. 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 becoming available 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 finished, the hotel will total 1,918 rooms. In Montego Bay, the Spanish chain Riu will open a fourth Jamaica property, Riu MahoeBay. 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. SuperClubs reopened Breezes RunawayBay on December 15 after completing a six-month $20 million renovation that added 15 percent more rooms and suites and included a complete overhaul of existing accommodations.

Jamaica is 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 residents' homes. Currently the program numbers 500 rooms in 160 homes. The tourism board is working closely with the hosts at these homes to ensure proper standards 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. An important aspect of the program is the opportunity it presents for Jamaican citizens to become involved in tourism.

Last September, 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)." Considering the leg up that the cruise industry is getting regarding the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative that requires U.S. citizens to have U.S. passports when returning from the Caribbean, visits from cruise passengers will become even more important for the bottom lines of many Caribbean destinations.

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