As the high season rolls into full gear this week in the Caribbean, Jamaica is hopeful that the holidays signal a strong start to the four-month peak travel period.
Jamaica is predicting one of its best winters ever after reporting a 4% upsurge in 2009 visitor arrivals through October. Jamaica's 2009 numbers are strong compared with many other Caribbean countries.
Jamaica welcomed 1.76 million visitors in 2008, and forecasts that it could top out at 1.8 million for 2009.
Jamaica says air capacity this winter totals 1 million airline seats. Among the carriers that have added lift or launched service to Jamaica are Air Jamaica, JetBlue, US Airways, AirTran, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways and Air Canada.
Two new charter operations from Italy into Montego Bay offer connections to gateways in Eastern Europe, a market that has received a lot of attention from Jamaica and other Caribbean destinations.
Germany, too, is emerging as new visitor source for Jamaica, according to Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism.
Bartlett attributed Jamaica’s tourism growth, even in a recession, to "our strong presence in the global market as well as sector support, our marketing team and the strategies of local brands."
The Jamaica Tourist Board has budgeted $14 million on an advertising campaign that will roll out early in 2010 in cold-weather markets in the U.S. and Canada.
Expanding on a campaign last winter at the bus and rail terminals in New York (which included handouts of Blue Mountain coffee to cold commuters), the JTB will return this winter, including Boston and Chicago in the blitz.
Cruise tourist numbers, which totaled 1.1 million passengers in 2008, are expected to hold steady this year but rise in the 2010-2011 cruise season, when Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas calls at Falmouth port starting next December.
William Tatham, vice president of cruise and marine operations at the Port Authority of Jamaica, told the Jamaica Observer that the opening of the Falmouth port "will allow Jamaica to accept more calls, particularly on Tuesdays through Thursdays, which are considered critical cruise days."
Still, the ports in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios will be busy this winter, with 48 ships expected this month and another 40 in January.