Jamaica's tourism numbers continue to buck the trend found in other Caribbean destinations this winter. Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism, reported a 2% increase in visitor arrivals in February, on top of a 3.9% jump in overall visitors in 2008.

While the Canadian market continues to register double-digit growth, "the U.S. also and always remains a very strong and important market for Jamaica, and we will push ahead with more marketing and promotion," Bartlett said.

Budget hearings are being held in Jamaica now as the fiscal year winds to an end on March 31. Bartlett is hopeful that the current tourism budget of $15 million will be increased in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

The Jamaica Tourist Board is promoting the launch of a new series of one-hour specials called "The First Ladies Tour" that debuts March 3 on WE tv cable channel in the U.S. and the Caribbean. The first program will showcase Jamaica through the eyes of Lorna Golding, wife of Jamaica's Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

Airlift to Jamaica will increase this summer, Bartlett said. Delta will up its flights from Atlanta to four a week from the current three, and American will add additional service from Miami where it now has daily flights to Montego Bay and Kingston.

Although Air Jamaica ceased its flights from Atlanta, Los Angeles and Miami on Feb. 26, the minister said that "the gaps will be filled."

He also reported that Air Jamaica is on track for its March 31 divestment from the government and that "three strong prospects have emerged" as potential purchasers of the struggling airline.

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