As summer fades into autumn, Caribbean destinations are preparing for the peak winter season that lies ahead.

For at least one of those destinations, it appears that peak season will be the culmination of a record-setting year: Jamaica is on target to hit its record goal of 4.2 million visitors for 2017, up from the 3.8 million it welcomed in 2016.

"Visitor arrivals have been at a record high since the start of the year as our tourism sector continues on a firm growth trajectory," said Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism for Jamaica. "We remain optimistic that this record-breaking trend will continue, which will see Jamaica surpass that 4 million mark in arrivals," he said.

The minister also reported that Jamaica's tourism industry earned $1.46 billion in the first six months of 2017, up 7.5% over the same period in 2016.

In light of that encouraging news, Bartlett took a look at what lies ahead for Jamaican tourism, beginning with a significant international tourism event making its way to the island this fall.

"The [U.N. World Tourism Organization] global conference we are hosting in November will be significant. We will discuss how to make destinations more profitable and how we stem this leakage that has impoverished several tourism-driven destinations," Bartlett said.

The minister confirmed the plans for Karisma's Sugar Cane Jamaica, a $1 billion hotel, entertainment and retail project to be built near Ocho Rios over the next 10 years that will feature 5,000 rooms in seven hotels.

"The permits have been submitted, and development preparation is underway. The project is expected to include Nickelodeon Hotels & Resorts and Margaritaville-branded properties," Bartlett said.

A revitalization of Ocho Rios itself is planned, and $1.9 million has been earmarked for the redevelopment of the boardwalk/promenade from the marina to Ocho Rios Bay Beach and the upgrade of Main Street.

Bartlett said he is keen to increase Jamaica's tourism spending, pointing out that the tourism sector has a tendency to become dependent on foreign imports, with the result that the leakage of foreign exchange from tourism is high.

"In the Caribbean as a whole, it is 80 cents on the dollar. In Jamaica, it's 30 cents. Instead of importing the inputs of tourism, Jamaica must be able to provide all tourist needs locally, particularly utilizing partnerships," he said.
Improving the experience for cruise passengers also is on Bartlett's agenda.

"As part of an overall strategy to eliminate the possibility of any direct solicitation of passengers as they leave the port of Falmouth, we're implementing a better organization of traffic management in the area so passengers can leave the ship and the port in a more structured manner," he said.

"It's part of our program to reduce incidents of badgering and what I call 'enthusiastic solicitation,'" Bartlett said.

An artisans' village also is planned for Falmouth, which will offer space for craft vendors.

"We expect to start construction on that soon for completion by the end of 2018," he said.

In regard to the recent departure of Paul Pennicook as director of tourism at the conclusion of his three-year contract, Bartlett said an active search is underway for his replacement.

Pennicook, meanwhile, said he is not leaving the industry and is available as a consultant on industry-related projects.

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