One-on-One: Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Talks New Hotels, Island’s Growth

Azul Sensatori Jamaica in Negril, Karisma Hotels & Resorts’ first venture outside of Mexico, will be joined by 10 new Karisma properties over the next 10 years.

e found ourselves in unusual territory during our most recent visit, in June, to the island of Jamaica. Although Travel Agent usually frequents a destination’s hottest hotels, newest restaurants and latest attractions, this time around we were smack in the middle of the Parliament of Jamaica in Kingston. While we are typically surrounded by well-tanned vacationers sipping on frozen cocktails, this visit saw us in the midst of that country’s most powerful politicians.

We were there to see one in particular.

Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica’s former minister of tourism, officially returned to that position earlier in the year and invited us to be his personal guest during his address to the Parliament. Bartlett, who was one of the 18 members sworn in earlier this year, first ascended to the island nation’s top tourism post in 2007, but after his party lost the 2011 general elections he was succeeded by Dr. Kenneth Wykeham McNeill.

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Primary Goals

Bartlett says the main goal during his tenure at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) will be to secure five million visitors by 2021.

During that timeline, the JTB also intends to generate $5 billion in tourism earnings, increase the total direct jobs to 125,000 and add 15,000 new hotel rooms to the country’s inventory.

He says this will be done through the JTB’s “Five Pillars of Tourism Growth,” which are:

  • Tapping into new markets
  • Developing new products
  • Promoting investment
  • Building new partnerships
  • Developing human capital

Underscoring these pillars of growth, Bartlett says, are five networks, incorporating several key sectors, which will better integrate tourism with the wider society and thereby better spread the benefits to all Jamaicans. These five networks are gastronomy, sports and entertainment, health and wellness, shopping and knowledge.

Bartlett told the Parliament that renewed architecture of pillars and networks “will be enveloped by the need to strengthen and expand linkages with our local agriculture, manufacturing and the service sector and most importantly, encourage us to aggressively push multi-destination tourism as a response to the new global tourism realities, including the gradual rise of Cuba.”

Bartlett noted that 1.2 billion people traverse the globe and spend $1.3 trillion annually.

“The growing tourism industry represents the most important form of economic activity in the Caribbean today, with earnings in excess of $27 billion, providing jobs for one out of every five employed persons and attracting just over 30 million visitors annually,” he said.

He also told the Parliament that performance figures for 2015 indicate that Jamaica recorded 3.6 million stopovers and cruise visitors combined, revenues of $2.5 billion and grew by 2.1 percent for stopover arrivals. For the winter period — January through April, 2016 — Jamaica recorded a total of 773,458 stopover visitors and 745,220 cruise arrivals adding up to 1,518,678 visitors overall. This represents an increase of 7.6 percent over the same period in 2015, when Jamaica welcomed 756,463 stopover visitors and 654,564 cruise passengers, making it a grand total of 1,411, 027 visitors.

Royalton Luxury Resorts is putting the finishing touches on the new, all-inclusive Royalton Blue Waters, slated to open November 1 on White Bay, near Montego Bay.
Royalton Luxury Resorts is putting the finishing touches on the new, all-inclusive Royalton Blue Waters, slated to open November 1 on White Bay, near Montego Bay.

Referencing this in his address to Parliament, Bartlett said: “As we look ahead, Mr. Speaker, this year we have been successful in increasing airlift to Jamaica and have secured adequate seats to ensure a good winter and a successful summer. We would have had almost three million seats out of our main source markets for both summer and winter, representing an increase over last year.”

He, however, added that “with value added amounting to less that 5 percent of GDP [gross domestic product] and jobs amounting to less than 10 percent of the island’s workforce, one sees readily that Jamaica’s tourism sector is underperforming in the realm of its potential to provide significant economic well being to the country.”

Tapping New Markets

Bartlett also informed the Parliament that globally, as per estimates, the middle class — who have the disposable income to travel — will double over the next 20 years. This provides an amazing opportunity for Jamaica to attract visitors from burgeoning markets in areas such as South America, India, China and Africa.

“I think that we did not do as well with South America and other markets as we should have,” Bartlett tells Travel Agent. “But, the opportunity is still there. We feel great about creating a new level of partnerships. We realize we need to extend our presence in social media more in order to have greater impact in those markets.”

Bartlett says that upon returning as minister in March this year, he became “acutely aware” that the Canadian market suffered a decline of 6.8 percent last year and a further 17 percent this year.

In Asia, Bartlett says the JTB is focusing its attention on China, South Korea and Japan. Decades ago, Jamaica received upward of 20,000 Japanese visitors per annum but the number has since declined to roughly 2,000 per annum, due in part to a long economic slowdown in Japan among other factors.

Multi-Destination Tourism

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, during his recent trip to Cuba, signed a groundbreaking agreement that will see Jamaica partnering with Cuba on tourism under a multi-destination tourism framework. Bartlett referenced this as he told the Parliament that the JTB is now witnessing an evolution in relations between Cuba and the United States, which is changing the face of tourism and travel in that country.

Cruise Marketing

Cruise marketing, according to Bartlett, has now been added to the portfolio of the Ministry of Tourism as part of a strategic move to further boost cruise arrivals. He says the JTB is exploring the building of new ports of call — including Downtown, Kingston. Additionally, Bartlett announced that German tourism company TUI AG has a new cruise ship that will be homeporting in Montego Bay, bringing to four the number of vessels that will call Jamaica home.

Artisan Villages

The JTB is also aggressively pushing ahead with plans to construct artisan villages in the resort areas across the island. The first facility, according to Bartlett, will be built in Ocho Rios, with others to be established in Montego Bay, Falmouth, Port Antonio and Negril over the next five years. He describes the artisan villages as “one-stop shops” for authentic Jamaican food, music, heritage and crafts. The facilities will provide an avenue for Jamaican artists and craftsmen to expose and express their creativity by producing unique indigenous items, “thus limiting the volume of imported craft items that are being sold in the industry,” he says.

Sports and Entertainment Tourism Network

Bartlett contends that sports and entertainment tourism is yet another area with tremendous potential to fundamentally augment Jamaican tourism. He notes that the destination is a natural for an enhanced entertainment tourism product. Bartlett told the Parliament that in the aftermath of what he calls the “golden exploits” of the nation’s sprinters at the Olympic Games at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012 and subsequent World Championships, “the global status of the country as a track-and-field powerhouse has become legendary and it continues to gain significant international media attention especially through the growing celebrity status of superstar athlete Usain Bolt.”

Jamaica and the LGBT Market

Since Bartlett ended his first run as minister in 2011, the LGBT market to the Caribbean has grown mostly due to the overall acceptance of these travelers over the years as well as the marriage equality laws recently passed throughout the U.S. and around the world. But, will Jamaica, a deeply conservative island, ever accept this market without controversy?

“Market diversification will continue,” Bartlett tells Travel Agent. “The Caribbean lifestyle is a function of a system of values. But values change all the time. Over time, I think there will be a lot more acceptance of certain lifestyles.”

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett touts gastronomy, sports and entertainment, health and wellness, shopping and knowledge as five key networks for the future of the country’s tourism.
Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett touts gastronomy, sports and entertainment, health and wellness, shopping and knowledge as five key networks for the future of the country’s tourism.

Jamaica Hotel News

We were was also on hand in June for a monumental signing between Karisma Hotels & Resorts and the JTB. The deal was officially signed at the historic Devon House by Bartlett and Ruben Becerra, vice president of corporate affairs and business development for Premier Worldwide Marketing, Karisma’s exclusive worldwide sales and marketing representative. The deal calls for 10 new Karisma Hotels & Resorts properties, representing 5,000 new rooms in Jamaica. All of the rooms will be ready within the next 10 years, with the first scheduled to open around the summer of 2018, Becerra told us.

Dubbed “Sugarcane,” the resort represents an investment of more than $100 million, Rafael Feliz Jr., corporate brand manager for Premier Worldwide Marketing, had told us last year. Sugarcane will be built in the parish of St. Ann, about 40 minutes from the Montego Bay airport. The site is also 10 minutes from the famous Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios. Mandy Chomat, Karisma’s vice president of sales and marketing, told us in December that it will be the only area in the Caribbean with such a concentration of luxury hotels. Travel Agent was apprised by several Karisma Hotels & Resorts officials that there has been no official discussion on whether or not the company’s new Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts brand will be included in the resort complex.

Sandals Resorts recently announced that the much-anticipated over-the-water suites at Sandals Royal Caribbean in Montego Bay are now open for bookings for arrivals beginning November 15. Officially dubbed “Over-the-Water Private Island Butler Villas With Infinity Pools,” these accommodations, starting at $4,321 per night, convey an intimate connection to the Caribbean Sea and include floating water hammocks and glass floors.

Couples can admire the beauty of the ocean from their private infinity pool or either of the two outdoor showers. They won’t even have to step outside to appreciate the Caribbean waters. Every suite aims to capture the height of luxury with stylish king-size beds made from teak and adorned with soft Egyptian linen and pillows for a peaceful sleep experience. Each villa will be serviced by its own personal butler, trained in accordance with the exacting standards of the Guild of Professional Butlers, who provide such services to nobility and celebrities.

Before the year is out, Sandals will open the over-the-water villas at its Royal Caribbean resort and upgrade 25 percent of all rooms island-wide.
Before the year is out, Sandals will open the over-the-water villas at its Royal Caribbean resort and upgrade 25 percent of all rooms island-wide.

Travel Agent has also received word that 25 percent of all Sandals Resorts International room inventory in Jamaica will be upgraded by the end of this year. Work, which also includes renovation of certain common areas, is either complete or nearing completion at Sandals Royal Caribbean, Sandals Negril, Sandals Montego Bay, Beaches Negril and Beaches Ocho Rios.

On November 1, Royalton Luxury Resorts’ new all-inclusive resort, Royalton Blue Waters, will open on the shores of White Bay near Montego Bay, Jamaica. The 228-room hotel, which offers luxury for all ages, is celebrating its launch with a pre-opening sale: 59 percent off plus $400 in resort credits on stays from November 1 through December 22. Rates start at just $183 per person, per night, with a three-night minimum. As a bonus, all guests of the brand new Royalton Blue Waters will receive full access to facilities at the neighboring Royalton White Sands.

All of the rooms and suites at the new resort will be outfitted with signature Royalton amenities, including “DreamBeds,” high-thread-count sheets, double-headed rain showers and soaker tubs, plus a choice of balconies with ocean views or private swim-out pools. The resort’s “All-in Connectivity” covers free unlimited long-distance calls to North America and parts of Europe, in addition to complimentary property-wide Wi-Fi for all devices.

Guests can also upgrade to Royalton Blue Waters’ Diamond Club, which grants guests access to an exclusive lounge with premium drinks and canapés, exclusive à la carte restaurants and bars, a private beach area with waiter service, and rooms that boast of dedicated butler service, a selection of in-suite liquors, upgraded room service options and a special pillow menu. 

Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Appoints Omar Robinson Its New President

Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association announced the appointment of Omar Robinson as its new president. He succeeds Nicola Madden-Greig, who served in the role for two years. Robinson has been part of the JHTA executive team for more than five years and is currently the general manager of Round Hill Hotel and Villas in Jamaica.

Omar Robinson, president of the JHTA; Jennifer Griffiths, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and an artisan showcasing her product at the recent “Christmas In July” event at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.
Omar Robinson, president of the JHTA; Jennifer Griffiths, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and an artisan showcasing her product at the recent “Christmas In July” event at the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston.

In his inaugural address, Robinson vowed to continue building on the foundation laid by Madden-Greig and will also continue to engage government on tourism issues such as safety/security, taxation, licensing and environmental practices among others. He also mentioned strengthening the linkages with local manufacturers and suppliers.

“I look forward to continuing the mandate of the JHTA by working closely with both private and public stakeholders to ensure the advancement and sustained growth of the Jamaican tourism industry,” Robinson said in a written release. “As we enter into this new chapter, the JHTA will continue to leverage our relationships around the world as we look to help not only our members, but all players in the sector to achieve increased market presence, profitability and, most importantly, growth.”

Robinson has worked in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years and has held executive management positions at Sandals Resorts and Round Hill.

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