JAMAICA: All Right

Written by  Lebawit Lily Girma

Caribbean JAPEX
The 27th edition of the Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX)-Jamaica’s premier trade event, and most important business generator-came and went with a bang this past September at the Montego Bay Convention Center.
Hosted by the Jamaica Hotel and Transportation Association (JHTA), in partnership with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), JAPEX 2017 revealed groundbreaking developments in Jamaica’s tourism industry, from arrival increases to new hotels and experiences. The conference also highlighted the country’s new leadership role in coordinating a plan of disaster recovery for the Caribbean, to be further discussed at the UNWTO sustainable tourism conference that Jamaica will host November 27-29.

Counting the presence of Jamaica’s top tourism dignitaries, including Prime Minister Andrew Holness, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, and JHTA President Omar Robinson, this year’s conference included 246 delegates from Jamaica’s top supplier companies, 66 buyers, 105 tour operators, and 152 international travel agents-altogether reflecting growth in emerging markets such as Latin America, and Eastern Europe.
In true Jamaican fashion, JAPEX blended work and play-from an opening night marked by live reggae music, to a Third World concert beachside at the opening of Jewel Grande Resort & Spa, a live performance by Grammy-winning reggae artist Shaggy hosted by Sandals Montego Bay, and a poolside closing cocktail event at Chukka’s new Adventure Park and Falls at Good Hope Estate.

Historic growth
Recognized as the crux of the country’s economic growth strategies, tourism in Jamaica is indeed booming.
“For the first eight months of 2017, there was a 6.9% increase in stopover arrivals compared to that period in 2016,” confirmed Prime Minister Holness. “Cruise passenger arrivals are also up 5.1% from January to August, for a total of 2.8 million visitors in that eight-month period. Jamaica earned 1.98 billion dollars, or 8.3% more in gross foreign exchange earnings than last year.”
This growth of nearly 7% has surpassed Jamaica’s target of five percent per annum, putting it well on track for double-digit growth in September, what Minister Bartlett described as an historic event.
The accommodation sector has made giant strides, particularly along the Montego Bay coastline, with nearly 500 new rooms launched during JAPEX, not counting renovated rooms and upgraded facilities appealing to today’s high tech traveler. Over the next five years, Jamaica expects to add and meet the goal of a total of 15,000 rooms.
While Jamaica’s successes were celebrated, moments of silence were also observed for all hurricane victims in neighboring affected Caribbean islands and in the US, as well as earthquake casualties in Mexico City. Minister Bartlett shared that a regional plan for the Caribbean to withstand climate change consequences will take shape at the annual State of the Industry Conference (SOTIC) in Grenada from October 10-13, 2017. The JHTA also announced its newly set up hurricane relief fund, which JHTA kicked off with US$10,000 from its account. JAPEX attendees were encouraged to contribute during the event. JHTA’s travel partners were also asked to create a special promotion to remind travelers that the Caribbean remains open for business.

Cutting-edge, smart resorts
Jamaica’s accommodation sector is thriving. New, cutting edge luxury properties are giving Montego Bay’s coastline a new pulse, while Negril has also earned a handful of upscale all-inclusive properties. Appealing to tech savvy consumers eager to design their own experiences, from families to wellness enthusiasts, and party-loving travelers, three resorts offering a gamut of amenities launched during JAPEX.
AMResorts’ latest property, adults-only Breathless Montego Bay Resort and Spa is located adjacent to Secrets. Appealing to the hip, sophisticated party crowd, the resort boasts 150 seafront suites with tablets in-room, a beach club, seven restaurants featuring communal tables, five bars, “love zone” room lighting, and an in-room “breakfast at noon” option. The showstopper is the Altitude rooftop infinity pool and bar, boasting 360° panoramic views over Montego Bay’s Marine Park and harbor. AMResorts also launched Zoetry Montego Bay-formerly Coyaba-their “inspirational brand,” counting 49 boutique suites with butler service, a focus on wellness, and cultural experiences including cooking classes. www.amresorts.com
Jewel Grande Montego Bay and Spa-formerly the uncompleted Palmyra complex-is now an ultra-luxurious, all-inclusive product managed by Aimbridge Hospitality. Branded as Jamaica’s first all-suite hotel, 299 rooms range from junior suites to penthouses, and villas with plunge pools. Top of the line amenities include 50-inch HD interactive TVs, personal butler service for each room, two pools, and eight restaurants, including pier side Asian fusion dining. The resort’s wellness focus features the 30,000-square feet Grande Spa, set in an Italian villa with 14 treatment rooms, quartz spa beds-a new concept in spa treatment tables-a yoga and barre studio, and a Himalayan salt halotherapy lounge, the first in the Caribbean region. www.jewelresorts.com
Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach, in downtown Montego Bay, opened in February of 2017 with 146 ocean view rooms, offering a more sophisticated property than the adjacent Royal Decameron Montego Beach, to which guests have access. An additional upgrade is expected in 2018 to make the property more family friendly. www.decameron.com
In Negril, Royalton Resorts now offers two beachfront properties: Royalton Negril, a sleek all-inclusive geared towards families and couples, and Hideaway, an adults-only, luxury-leaning resort. Royalton Negril boasts a panoramic open reception area facing Negril’s Bloody Bay beach stretch, 9 restaurants, including a seven-course CX Culinary Experience, a sports bar, a beachfront amphitheater, a family Diamond Club section with infinity pool, and a Royal Spa. www.royaltonresorts.com
Melia Braco Village-opened in 2016-unveiled a new three-room bridal suite addition to its property, with a resident Romance Specialist, as well as an adventure park on site that was designed in partnership with Chukka. It features activities fit for children from age six and up, including obstacle courses, trampolines, and a rock climbing wall, as well as bicycle tours through 52 acres of the property. The resort just received the 2017 World Travel Awards as the Caribbean’s and Jamaica’s Leading Luxury Resort. www.melia.com

Bold makeovers and plans
A handful of properties surprised with major exterior and interior upgrades and additions, which compete with Jamaica’s new line of sleek resorts. Sandals Royal Caribbean’s 12 Over-The-Water Bungalows are all the rage, booked a year in advance, and offering 24-hour butler service, partial glass bottom floors, and airport transfers in a luxury cars. Over-the-water bungalows are also being added to Sandals South Coast, with 12 of them opening in December 2017, including an over-the-water wedding chapel. Sandals Montego Bay completed a major renovation, with a sleek, modernized look-emphasizing openness and sea views throughout the property, from lobby to restaurant-and new oceanfront swim-up butler suites, with soaking tubs. www.sandals.com
To boot, 2018 will welcome highly anticipated properties. The Excellence Group will launch Excellence Oyster Bay in June 2018-with 317 rooms located on a secluded peninsula in Falmouth, surrounded by sea and two-miles of sand. The old Breezes Montego Bay will be reopening as the Spanish Court Hotel along the Hip Strip, while the Hard Rock will be present with 1,000 rooms. The Karisma Group is building the Sugar Cane Resort in St. Ann, and providing a total of 5,000 rooms over ten resorts over the next ten years. Royalton Resorts will be expanding with 1,200 rooms. The former Wyndham Hotel in Kingston is being renovated by the Courtleigh group, and will be ready by mid 2018.

Beyond sun, sea, and sand: Innovative Experiences
Jamaica’s breadth of experiences goes well beyond the beach, and visitors are increasingly seeking these unique activities.
“We will have that (sun, sea, sand) as our flagship, but we are a total destination,” said Minister Bartlett.
As such, plans are under way to develop five main tracks for an enhanced visitor experience: knowledge tourism, culinary trails, shopping, music and entertainment, and health and wellness-with an emphasis on spas, and a “cannabis infused experience” for medically beneficial purposes. From Montego Bay to Ocho Rios, new tour offerings already fall in line with this vision.
Nestled in the hills of Westmoreland, approximately 40 minutes from Negril, Zimbali Retreat’s farm to table excursion takes visitors on a tour of the lodge’s organic farm, learning about Jamaican fruits and vegetables, followed by a cooking demonstration, and three-course lunch served in the open Zimbali Mountain Cooking Studio. A Blue Mountain Culinary Tour also launched earlier this year, involving 15 participating restaurants, including coffee estates.
Chukka Adventure Park and Falls at Good Hope Estate officially opened during the closing party for JAPEX, hosted by JHTA in a first-ever partnership event with Expedia. The recreational park is an all-family affair with a giant swimming pool slide, as well 55-feet man-made falls overlooking the adjacent Martha Brae River. Terrace pools with zero entry-level accommodate small children, while teens can enjoy zip lining over the park, or riding buggies.
Island Routes-recently awarded Caribbean’s Leading Adventure Tour Operator at the 2017 World Travel Awards-allows visitors to get behind the wheel of their own Mini Cooper and explore the “real” Jamaica. Led by an expert guide, MINI-Routes options are from Montego Bay to Negril, or from Montego Bay to Ocho Rios.

Leading A Sustainable Caribbean
On November 27-29, 2017, Jamaica will host the UNWTO’s first-ever International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development Conference. Participants will include top financial institutions-such as the World Bank, IDB, and UNDP-as well as AirBnB, and Uber, among others. The conference will result in the Declaration of Montego Bay: a blueprint for sustainability over the years, which will also help to advise the UNWTO’s next set of publications on sustainable tourism, and goals.
Minister Bartlett shared that Jamaica has also been appointed by the UNWTO and the World Tourism and Travel Council to lead the Caribbean region in strategizing on a recovery profile for the region. Along with a number of multilateral lending agencies and NGOs, a task force is currently being established-to be announced in Grenada at the State of the Industry Conference-which will conduct a scientific visit to the damaged islands in the Caribbean, primarily Puerto Rico, Anguilla, Barbuda, Dominica, and Turks and Caicos, including Mexico.

Boosted Health and Safety Services
Through Jamaica’s new Destination Assurance Strategy, 200 district councilors have been appointed to Jamaica’s major tourism regions, and are focused on safety and security. In addition, hospitals and emergency care within resort areas have progressed. Approximately one billion Jamaican dollars were spent to Cornwall Regional Hospital to improve its trauma center. New facilities include Baywest Wellness Clinic in Montego Bay, with an on-call trauma and surgical team. Also in that area, Hospiten-with a 24-hour emergency room, an ICU, clinical lab, and outpatient services-recently obtained international ISO certification in June 2017.

Getting There
Sunwing will be providing a record 100,000 seats into Jamaica for this winter, while approximately 68 additional cruise ship calls are expected between now and the end of year.
The new toll road linking Jamaica’s north coast directly to Kingston means visitors can experience two destinations in one trip, with the ability to fly out of the two airports, and to discover Jamaica’s vibrant, culture-filled capital. www.visitjamaica.com

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