If tourism minister Edmund Bartlett has his way, Jamaica will welcome 5 million visitors a year by 2012, a 70% increase over the record 1.5 million stayover visitors who arrived in 2007.

Although tourism arrivals for 2008 reflect a strong start, with preliminary statistics from January through March 21 showing an increase of 12.5% over the same period in 2007, Jamaica has seen a drop in U.S. arrivals, a market which accounts for the bulk of the island’s tourism.

Bartlett recently outlined a number of local and international initiatives designed to drive the growth of not only the tourism sector but also Jamaica’s economy.

One plan, called Drive for Five, aims to increase annual visitor arrival figures to 5 million and drive the daily tourist spending from $85 to $150 per person, Bartlett said.

Jamaica plans to target new and emerging markets, including Brazil, Russia, India and China “to capture a greater market share and to position Jamaica more prominently in the marketplace,” he said.

Other initiatives include new directions in TV advertising and forging alliances with airlines to launch routes to Jamaica, particularly out of Europe, and to enhance service on existing routes.

In addition to the 10,000 hotel rooms coming on line in the next few years from Spanish developers such as Riu, Iberostar, Pinero Bahia Principe, Fiesta Hotels & Resorts and Grupo Excellence, additional developments are planned for Port Antonio on the island’s northeastern coast, including the refit of the landmark Trident Hotel.

The redevelopment of downtown Kingston; the expansion of port facilities in Falmouth and upgrades to cruise facilities in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios; completion of the $139 million expansion projects at airports in Kingston and Montego Bay; and continued improvements on the North Coast Highway as well major arteries in and out of Kingston also are under way, Bartlett said.

Jamaica will host its annual Jamaica Product Exchange, better known as JAPEX, in Kingston from April 25 to 27.

To contact reporter Gay Nagle Myers, send e-mail to [email protected].

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