Dip in U.S. arrivals discussed at Jamaica event


The growing room count, particularly along Jamaica's north coast, and a decline in U.S. visitor arrivals were big topics at the Jamaica Product Exchange held in late April at the Sunset Jamaica Grande Resort & Spa in Ocho Rios.

More than 1,100 rooms were added to Jamaica's hotel room inventory last year, and 1,200 more will become available this year, according to Dennis Morrison, chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Morrison confirmed that these room numbers are in line with Jamaica's five-year goal of 12,000 new rooms by 2012.

With an eye toward the increased room count, the JTB is actively pursuing a number of markets, including the group and incentive segment, with a strong presence at trade shows in the U.S. and Europe.

In her opening address to delegates, Portia Simpson Miller, Jamaica's prime minister, reported that Jamaica set an arrival record in 2006, topping 3 million visitors, including more than 1 million from the U.S. Cruise passenger arrivals rose by 18% to more than 1.8 million.

However, U.S. visitor arrival numbers have declined this year to date. Basil Smith, director of tourism, said the law that requires Americans to show a passport when re-entering the U.S., which took effect in January, "has certainly contributed to fewer arrivals, but other factors also are responsible, such as a declining U.S. economy."

Also, Cancun has recovered from Hurricane Wilma in 2005, re-emerging as a strong competitor with a substantial marketing budget, Smith said. 

John Lynch, executive vice president of sales worldwide for Sandals Resorts, was more specific about the new passport requirement, estimating a 10% loss in business for the Caribbean from January through June of this year, especially in the budget and mass markets.

"Those markets suffered during the spring break/Easter holiday season. Many students and random travelers now are more likely to travel within their home country rather than go through the expense and hassle involved in securing a passport," Lynch said.

Josef Forstmayr, chairman of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association's organizing committee and managing director of Round Hill Hotel & Villas, said he saw no significant change in occupancies thus far this year at his property. "Most of our guests are seasoned travelers who already had passports," he said. "But the U.S. accounts for more than 70% of visitors to the Caribbean, and this is a huge market that the region cannot afford to lose."

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