As it celebrates its 80th anniversary, Travel Agent decided to take a trip down memory lane to see how Jamaica, the most-visited island in the Caribbean, became the tourism giant it is today.
How it All Began
Port Antonio, capital of the Portland region, is often referred to as the cradle of tourism in Jamaica. Tourism took root in this town when “banana king” Lorenzo Baker, showing great foresight and entrepreneurial spirit, brought visitors to the island on his return from a trip abroad to sell bananas.
The steamships used for transporting bananas had tourists onboard as well. Those ships were for a long time the only mode of travel between Jamaica and other countries. The guest houses Baker built for his workers and officers were also used to house these early Portland visitors.
As the trips to Jamaica became more popular, Baker built the Titchfield Hotel on Titchfield Hill in the early 1900s. Soon, Port Antonio streets were filled with tourists, ¬and Portland earned the title “birthplace of Jamaican tourism.” In 1905, The Titchfield Hotel was rebuilt and the magnificent new structure had 600 feet of piazza and 400 rooms. It was said that “no hotel this side of the Atlantic is provided with such conveniences that minister so largely to the pleasure of travelers.” The Titchfield Hotel became known for its afternoon tea on the piazza and its bathhouses.
One of the hotel’s claims to fame is that it was once owned by famous Hollywood swashbuckler Errol Flynn, who died before he could implement any of his plans to develop the property. In the late 1960s, though, the hotel was destroyed by a fire. Today, only the ruins of this great landmark stand.
Prior to 1890, several lodging houses and inns existed; the number exceeded 1,400 in 1830. With the passing of the Hotels Act of 1890, the government encouraged the building of accommodations for the Great Exhibition of 1891. So, hotels and resorts were set up in Kingston, Spanish Town, Moneague, Mandeville and Port Antonio, of which the most famous were the Titchfield in Port Antonio and Myrtle Bank in Kingston. Others included the Queens, Rio Cobre, Moneague and Mandeville hotels.
The Great Exhibition was heralded as the first intensive effort to promote tourism in the island. Its principal purpose was to educate the people and awaken them from economic stupor and arouse their interest in the possibilities the country had.
Among the exhibits were gadgets for curing and preparing ginger, spices, coffee, cocoa and annotto as well as fruit-drying devices, small windmills, turbines and other time- and labor-saving contrivances.
Port Antonio continues to be a center of Jamaican tourism today. While the Titchfield is long gone, in 1979 hotelier Earl Levy began construction on the Trident Castle as one of the largest private residences in all of the Caribbean. The 40,000-square-foot edifice on seven acres of seaside land has since become Port Antonio’s iconic hotel and is much in demand for weddings, private events and getaways for the rich and famous. The property also has a helicopter pad, romanesque pool and private chapel.
Tourist Board Set Up
The attempts to organize a bureau responsible for marketing Jamaica led to the formation of the Jamaica Tourist Association in 1910. This was when the first guidebook was created.
The next important milestone came in 1922 when the government established the Tourist Trade Development Board. By 1954, the need for a more effective organization was felt.
Thus, a much altered and invigorated version took shape as the Jamaica Tourist Board on April 1, 1955, with its membership reflecting all interests in the industry.
Other Key Moments
Jamaica has two international airports, Palisadoes Airport (renamed Norman Manley in honor of Norman Washington Manley, the island’s second chief minister) and Montego Bay Airport (now Sangster International Airport, named after Sir Donald Sangster, Jamaica’s second prime minister).
While a decision was made to build the runway for the then Montego Bay Airport in 1940, the construction of the facility was completed only on February 18, 1947. At the time of its completion, the town of Montego Bay was more like a playground for the rich and famous, and was considered even then, just as it is today, one of the premier vacation spots within the Caribbean.
The first international airline to fly into the Montego Bay Airport was Pan American Airways, and in fact, the airport, which was more like a small aerodrome, was operated by Pan American until September 30, 1949, when the Jamaican government took control of the facility.
Courtesy of these two airports, the island reached the 1 million mark for arrivals in 1986. Jamaica will soon have its third international airport, Ian Fleming International Airport, five miles from Ocho Rios. Formerly known as the Boscobel Airstrip, the facility has been expanded and upgraded to receive private international aircraft as large as the Dash 8.