In terms of tourism expansion, Jamaica fares well

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Resort renovations, new builds, additional airlift and marketing initiatives signal that Jamaica is in expansion mode these days.

At the end of 2007, Jamaica's hotel inventory surpassed 27,000 rooms. An additional 3,217 rooms are scheduled to become operational this year.

Spanish-owned hotel firms lead the building bonanza and will add 10,000 rooms islandwide within three years.

In Montego Bay alone, the room tally will increase by 2,650 rooms this year to bring total inventory in that resort gateway to 8,950 rooms.

Iberostar Rose Hall Beach resort, which already completed its first construction phase, will open more rooms next fall to bring its total count to 980 units.

Riu will open its first resort in Montego Bay in September with 701 rooms; Fuerte Hotel Group will unveil Secrets Montego Bay and Secrets St. James, two side-by-side, 350-room properties this year; and Fiesta Hotels & Resorts will take the wraps off its 2,000-room resort this fall.

The 427-room Ritz-Carlton Resort Rose Hall will complete phase two of a $15 million renovation this spring when the property unveils upgraded rooms and suites. New to the property are a $150,000 art collection; a Blue Mountain coffee station for early risers and an afternoon Kiddies Candy Corner in the Cohoba Lounge; resortwide WiFi; ceiling murals in the spa's treatment rooms; and an authentic Jamaican vibe in the restaurants.

"Precisely at 1 p.m. each day, service stops at Mango's restaurant so the waiters can sing a medley of Jamaican folk tunes," said Sebastian Stutz, food and beverage director.

New villas are going up at the Tryall Club, with 69 units already in the rental pool. Each of the villas comes with a chef; extra staff, such as a "swimming nanny" for young kids, can be arranged.

Tryall, a former sugar plantation with a Georgian Great House, overlooks an 18-hole golf course. Attractions on the grounds include a cast-iron cannon that once fired at pirate ships and a centuries-old water wheel. At resort weddings, a flag bearing the couple's family crest is raised while the cannon fires a symbolic shot into the air.

The 251-room Sandals Montego Bay, the resort chain's flagship property located near the airport, offers 11 room categories, including 59 refurbished Bay Roc Estate beachfront villa suites. On the drawing board are an Irish pub opening this summer and spruced-up rooms with Jamaican-made furniture.

"We are looking at 2008 to be our best year yet, with occupancy hovering around 90% through May," said Horace Peterkin, general manager.

Also located minutes from the airport, the 187-room Sandals Royal Caribbean offers six room categories, including 10 new river suites.

With the slogan "the smallest property with the biggest heart," Sandals Inn is all about location. Facing Gloucester Avenue, otherwise known as the Hip Strip in Montego Bay, the 52-room property is cozier and less pricey than its two sister properties yet carries the same high service standards. 

"Our guests like our laid-back Mo Bay experience," said Cheryl Burns, general manager.

Bartender David Cunningham agreed as he mixed a potent Jamaican Smile for a couple celebrating an anniversary. "I get to know all our guests within a day of their arrival," he said.

Also near the Hip Strip is the 124-room, all-inclusive Breezes Montego Bay, with three restaurants, an immense pool and a tennis court lighted for night play.

The resort fronts Doctor's Cave Beach, famous for its healing waters. Recent refurbishments include the addition of soundproof balcony doors and an overhaul of the rooftop Jacuzzi.

The resort offers a number of optional guest activities, such as Jamaican Cook and Talk classes and a Margaritaville night that includes shuttles to the popular Jimmy Buffett club down the street and a buggy bar with 50 varieties of margaritas.

"More than 60% of our clients book through travel agents," said Lance Parrish, general manager.

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