Jamaica welcomes a sizable boost in U.S. airlift for winter

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The Presidential North master bedroom unit at the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande.
The Presidential North master bedroom unit at the Moon Palace Jamaica Grande.

Jamaica will usher in the upcoming winter season with 60,000 more airline seats than it had in the 2014-2015 season, according to Paul Pennicook, director of tourism.



Nearly all of them, 57,868 to be exact, will be from the U.S., with the rest out of the U.K. and Scandinavia. The airlift from the U.S. includes carriers new to the market as well as airlines that have expanded their winter schedules to the island.

New nonstop flights include Southwest Airlines' daily service from Houston's Hobby Airport launching on Nov. 1, Frontier Airlines from Philadelphia four times a week beginning Dec. 4, and American Airlines from Los Angeles with weekend service beginning Dec. 18.

Paul Pennicook
Paul Pennicook

"Air Jamaica used to have the Los Angeles route, so the new service on American will directly benefit our West Coast visitors," Pennicook said. "Delta is increasing its flights from Minneapolis to daily service, and we're getting new charters from Gothenburg, Sweden, and Oslo, Norway, on Thomas Cook starting in November."

What's driving this airlift increase, Pennicook said, are new and upgraded hotel inventory and new attractions that are pushing visitor arrivals.

"We're aiming for 2.14 million visitors this year, and we're on track to meet those numbers and beat the 2.08 million we had in 2014," he said.

Jamaica will have close to 1,500 more rooms in inventory than it had last winter, including the 700-room Moon Palace Jamaica Grande (the former Sunset Jamaica Grande) in Ocho Rios and the 226-room Melia Braco Village (the former Braco Beach Resort & Spa) in Trelawny.

New rooms at the 450-room Grand Bahia Principe Jamaica in Runaway Bay and the 130-room Courtyard by Marriott newbuild in Kingston bring Jamaica's accommodations inventory to more than 28,000 rooms, including hotels, resorts, guesthouses and villas.

Bob Mann, president of R.W. Mann & Co., an aviation analysis and consulting firm, said the increase in airlift boils down to "tourism and economic development, foreign direct investment, [gross domestic product] and jobs."

"Whether that means real estate/hotel interest or government guarantees or outright subsidy is immaterial, as the interests in expanding scheduled airline service are shared, and [Jamaican interests] understand the strong economic multiplier effect that it can create," Mann said. "With locally based Caribbean Airlines cutting flights from Jamaica to the U.S. by more than 50% over the past five years, with other Caribbean-based carriers in disarray and narrow-body charter capacity at a historic low level, Jamaican interests — both in Jamaica and U.S.-based wholesalers and real estate developers — have looked to the U.S. industry to use its networks to efficiently consolidate island-bound travel."

Mike Boyd, aviation consultant and president of Boyd Group International, had a slightly different take on the increase.

"There's nothing intrinsic about Jamaica," Boyd said. "One airline adds seats and the others follow. It's an airline-driven decision. It's airlines following airlines."

Jack Richards, president of Pleasant Holidays, reported that demand for Jamaica is strong for 2016, with sales up double digits vs. the same time last year.

"American's new Los Angeles-Montego Bay nonstop is helping, along with new hotel product from Hyatt, Palace and others," Richards said. "Sandals and Beaches Jamaica are driving huge demand for couples and honeymooners."

Richards added that although the Dominican Republic is still the top Caribbean destination for Pleasant Holidays, "Jamaica is gaining and is certainly in the top five."

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