Jamaica’s Popularity is Booming, Thanks to Travel Advisors
We’re going to have the best winter season on record.
That’s the conclusion of Jamaica’s Deputy Director of Tourism for the Americas, Donnie Dawson, after meeting with travel advisors at the recent Delta Vacations University in Atlanta and Apple Leisure Group Vacations’ Ascend Meeting in Cancun.
Dawson’s optimism is largely fueled by travel advisors’ enthusiasm for Jamaica, coupled with pent-up demand among travelers anxious to resume travel after the pause mandated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “People just want to get out,” he says.
When travel advisors talk, Dawson listens: 70 percent of all bookings to Jamaica come via travel advisors, and 80 percent of the destination’s marketing budget targets the travel advisor community. Dawson and his team are constantly on the road meeting in regional seminars, holding biweekly webinars, and sponsoring FAMs, notably the annual One Love affair that rewards the top 50 sellers in North America with a weekend in Jamaica (this December the shindig will be held at the Secrets Resort in Montego Bay).
Jamaica’s Travel Specialist Program has more than 43,000 graduates, so there’s a huge pool of knowledgable travel advisors available when Dawson wants to put his ear to the ground. His optimistic prediction for a surge in Jamaica visits is also informed by recent trend data: stopovers in Jamaica increased more than 100 percent between January and July of 2022 compared to 2021; significantly, July visits to the island also were up 10 percent compared to pre-pandemic 2019.
The booking window for Jamaica trips, which has lingered about 30 days through September, is now stretching closer to 60 days, with strong bookings seen for January and February 2023 and beyond, says Dawson.
Another way the stars are aligning for a record-breaking winter season is airlift, which Dawson describes as “the most crucial component of travel to Jamaica.” Jamaica enters winter 2022-23 with key carriers like American Airlines and Delta Air Lines offers a full schedule of flights to Montego Bay and Kingston. In September, Spirit Airlines announced that it will launch four weekly flights between Bradley International Airport (BDL) in Connecticut and Sangster International Airport (MBJ) in Montego Bay on Dec. 15, 2022.
In June, Frontier Airlines launched two weekly nonstops to Montego Bay from Tampa International Airport (TPA); Tampa is Frontier’s fifth U.S. gateway to Jamaica, joining Philadelphia, Miami, Orlando and Atlanta as connections for travelers heading to the island via the Denver-based low-cost airline’s route network, much of which is concentrated in the western United States.
“That is going to be fantastic for us,” says the California-based Dawson, who says that Jamaica’s unique culture and food should inspire more West Coast travelers to consider the Caribbean nation over the more typical sun-and-fun trips to Mexico or Hawaii. “When I was in Cancun I came to the conclusion that we need to stay in our lane,” says Dawson. “As Bob Marley said about Jamaica, ‘There’s a natural mystic blowin’ through the air. If you listen carefully now you will hear.’”
Jamaica is well known for all-inclusive vacations where travelers often are looking for no more than a nice beach and a swim-up bar at the pool. But Dawson points out that Jamaica has about 150 vendors who operate excursions that travel advisors can book to give clients a deeper appreciation of the destination, and that more tour companies are building off-site excursions into their packages, even for trips to all-inclusive resorts.
Travel advisors will soon have more all-inclusive and other resorts to offer clients, including the 260-room Sandals Dunn’s River in Ocho Rios and a 700-room RIU in Falmouth, both slated for completion in 2023. Also coming next year is the first phase of what will ultimately be the 2,000-room Princess Jamaica Resort, located in low-key Hanover Parish about 40 minutes west of Montego Bay on Jamaica’s north shore, and just 10 minutes from Negril.
Increased air service to Ocho Rios’ new Ian Fleming International Airport supports the recent establishment of a new Jamaican tourism zone that includes Ocho Rios, Oracabessa, Port Maria, St. Ann’s Bay, Runaway Bay, and Discovery Bay. Jamaican officials hope that the new Jamaican Riviera zone will encourage more visitors to explore beyond Montego Bay and Negril.
A new highway connecting Kingston and Port Antonio also is expected to increase tourism to both cities. The largest English-speaking city south of Florida and the center of Jamaican government, Kingston should be on the map for travel agents whose clients are looking for an immersive experience in Jamaican culture, says Dawson.
Downtown Kingston is undergoing a revival as an arts and entertainment district, and the new Rok Hotel Kingston, a Tapestry by Hilton Collection property that opened in August, should help attract visitors to experience what Dawson calls Jamaica’s vibrant but often misunderstood capital. “Its a fun city with lots of great culinary experiences and nightlife,” he says. “The downtown Rok is located where the redevelopment will be that shows the heartbeat of Jamaica.”