While Ocho Rios and Montego Bay are the must-see destinations for many visitors to Jamaica, the island is banking on St. Thomas to become the next big thing in the near future.
St. Thomas is a sleepy parish east of Kingston and is known for its nature, history, agriculture, fishing and surfing. But the weather-beaten roads that led to St. Thomas makes for some less-than-ideal travel. That could change soon, however, when Jamaica completes a portion of a highway that will run through the eastern community, known as the "forgotten parish."
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That section of the Southern Coastal Highway Project, expected to be completed in August, is part of Jamaica's plan to enable easier access to some of the island's more remote communities. St. Thomas is home to the Blue Mountains, the Bath Fountain mineral spring, Reggae Falls and Bob Marley Beach, which the musical icon frequented regularly.
Jamaica is spending more than $200 million on 51 projects over the next decade. There are plans to add more than 4,000 hotel rooms in St. Thomas by 2030; revitalize beaches, including Rocky Point Beach; and upgrade existing roads and water pipeline networks. Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica's tourism minister, told Loop Jamaica News last July that there are some $1 billion in investments so far and that investors from the Dominican Republic were eyeing unspecified projects in St. Thomas.
Bartlett said the area, which he said would see controlled growth and environmentally friendly development, will become a hub for low-density and high-value tourism. It's a lot different from the current St. Thomas, home to 3.5% of the nation's total inhabitants and receiving less than 1% of all of Jamaica's tourists; in fact, most of the people who visit St. Thomas are Jamaican residents.
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The Woof Group is developing a $200 million luxury resort in St. Thomas. In 2019 it bought 200 acres of land leading to Bob Marley Beach in Bull Bay. As of 2020, a St. Regis Hotel in Bull Bay was slated to be built in the area, and upscale, residential community Sun Coast Beach Club, a $22 billion project, is underway, comprising 396 units on 90 acres.
According to the St. Thomas Tourism Destination Development Plan, Jamaica envisions, by 2030, 230,000 stayover and 65,000 day visitors to the region per year, substantially more than the 5,775 overall visitors St. Thomas saw in 2018.
So far this year, Jamaica has brought more than 1 million tourists, one month earlier than last year.
Bartlett said that the close proximity of St. Thomas to Kingston and Norman Manley Airport could bring considerable tourism development to the region, once the four-lane highway makes the region more accessible.
"Jamaica has new geographical areas that are untouched, unspoiled. We're probably one of the few Caribbean destinations that have them, and one of them is St. Thomas," said Bartlett.