MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — Jamaica’s tourism arrivals from January through March jumped 8.3% over the same period last year, and the destination is on track to better its 3.6% annual increase in 2009, according to John Lynch, director of tourism and chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Addressing delegates at the annual Jamaica Product Exchange conference here, Lynch hailed the first-quarter numbers as a "very commendable performance in the context of the worst global recession in 60 years."

And while Jamaica’s cruise arrivals in 2009 declined 15.6% due to redeployment of vessels and the opening up of new ports worldwide, cruise arrivals are expected to increase in 2011. In March, Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas and its sister ship, the Allure of the Seas, begin regular calls at the new Falmouth pier.

Airlift to Jamaica for summer 2010 indicates a 14% increase over 2009, with total seats numbering 1.3 million, according to Lynch. This includes JetBlue’s second daily nonstops from New York’s Kennedy Airport to Montego Bay and Kennedy to Kingston, beginning June 17.

"While we must remain alert to the constantly shifting winds within the transport industry, we have been generating increased airlift capacity to Jamaica from our critical gateways," Lynch said.

Marketing plans for Jamaica in 2010 include hosting more than 3,000 U.S. travel agents on fam trips and the opening of the Montego Bay Convention Center, which will serve as the host site for the annual Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association Marketplace in early January.

Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, told delegates that the need to generate high-value affordable products "is part of the new revolution in tourism. The issue is to remain competitive in this larger market of players with more countries involved in tourism."

Because of the need to keep every tourism product "fresh and crisp," Bartlett said, the Jamaican government is considering an amendment to the Hotels Incentive Act to allow for year-round, tax-free improvements by hoteliers.

The existing act offers tax relief only for new and expanding construction. "We felt it was necessary to look at the strategy to allow for almost perpetual refurbishing, so that hoteliers could change the doors, the windows and put in new furniture to maintain that freshness and crispness," Bartlett said.

Bartlett also said that the Jamaican Cabinet had approved amendments to its Duty-Free Shopping Act to expand the duty-free list and to allow incoming passengers to purchase items duty-free when they arrive in Jamaica as well as when they leave.

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