Arrivals up but revenue down as Jamaica rolls out upgrades

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It's a good news-bad news scenario: In the midst of a worldwide economic recession, Jamaica's tourism arrivals grew about 3% from January through mid-July compared with the same period last year.

Jamaica welcomed 1.05 million visitors, up from 1.02 million visitors, according to the Ministry of Tourism.

However, tourism revenue for the same period dropped $70 million, to $1.1 billion.

In the first quarter of 2009, Jamaica, Cuba and Cancun were the only Caribbean destinations to post positive numbers during this past winter's global tourism downturn, thanks in part to a steady stream of Canadian visitors, according to data from the Caribbean Tourism Organization.

"While international tourism is not immune to the global economic crunch, it has performed better than other sectors, such as real estate, construction and the financial markets," said Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett.

To maintain a competitive edge, Bartlett said, "the industry must routinely review market trends and develop cutting-edge market intelligence. The product must be new and improved because the same old, same old will no longer fly."

Product renewal is a top priority for the minister. More than $5.6 million has been earmarked for a comprehensive upgrade of Ocho Rios, Jamaica's second most-visited resort city after Montego Bay.

The plan, which includes the design and creation of entrances, streetscapes and amenities for both visitors and residents, is being funded by Jamaica's Tourism Enhancement Fund. Established in 2005, the fund's primary role is to support projects earmarked by the Tourism Master Plan for enhancing Jamaica's image.

Already, more than $76,000 has been spent in collaboration with the Jamaica National Heritage Trust on the Rio Nuevo battle site near Ocho Rios, scene of a definitive 1658 battle when the British wrested control of Jamaica from the Spanish.

A visitor arrival center with exhibits and displays in a museum opened July 18.

In addition, Jamaica's Urban Development Corp. and the Tourism Product Development Co. will collaborate on the establishment of an Artisan Village in Ocho Rios, at a cost of about $2.3 million.

Bartlett said approximately $1.2 million would be spent, in collaboration with the Airport Authority, to create the country's first airport for private jets, near Ocho Rios.

"Not only are we talking about improving the aesthetics of Ocho Rios, but we also are creating opportunities for employment, crafts and ground transportation and creating opportunities for our tourism partners to be involved in ensuring that this town is well developed," Bartlett said.

Work on the Falmouth cruise port on Jamaica's north coast, 18 miles east of Montego Bay, should start by the end of August, according to Bartlett. The pier will be built first and all accompanying facilities should be completed by November 2010.

Royal Caribbean's 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas originally was scheduled to call in Falmouth in May 2010 but will now make its first call in December 2010.

Bartlett will tap the Tourism Enhancement Fund for $3.4 million to spruce up the roadway from Sangster Airport to the Rose Hall area of Montego Bay with new landscaping and lighting.

The area encompasses the luxury hotel strip that includes the Ritz-Carlton, Iberostar, Half Moon, Sandals Royal Caribbean and the future convention center.

The project, scheduled for completion by the upcoming winter season, "will transform the stretch of land into a thing of beauty that will attract visitors," Bartlett said.

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