Jamaica on the verge of visitor arrivals history, says tourism minister
MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — With earnings for the first four months of this year at an all-time high of over US$1 billion, or a 6.5 percent increase over last year, minister of tourism, Edmund Bartlett announced on Sunday that Jamaica’s tourism industry is heading for a historic one million visitors before the end of this month.
“We are closing in on the first half of 2017 and we ended the month of May with a record 8.7 percent increase in stop-overs over the same month last year,” said Bartlett.
The 971,000 passengers brought in was just 30,000 shy of the first million target which, he said, will be reached by mid-June “and when that happens it will be a record because it will be the first time in our history that we will make a million visitors before the end of June.”
He was speaking at an official welcome event for the inauguration of Southwest Airlines newest service, non-stop flights from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. This brings to four the number of US gateways being operated by Southwest to Jamaica since commencing international flights there in 2014.
Bartlett, who arrived on the Southwest inaugural flight along with director of tourism Paul Pennicook, Southwest’s vice president, diversity and inclusion, Ellen Torbert, and other Southwest executives, hailed the airline as the most connected airline in the USA today.
“Southwest is moving from more gateways and secondary airports than any other airline in the US and therefore the connection with Jamaica is perfect,” he said.
The low-cost US carrier moves 120 million passengers annually.
Bartlett said his ministry and its agencies were working diligently to provide a product and a service that both meets and exceed the expectations of Jamaica’s visitors and tourism partners. He said steps are being taken to ensure the availability of first-class accommodation as well as a safe, secure and seamless visitor experience, noting that destination assurance was crucial ensuring sustained growth.
Accommodation is also being increased by attracting new hotel investments and Montego Bay can look forward to increasing room count by 1,000 new rooms this year and over 2,000 in the next four years.
Meanwhile, chief executive officer of MBJ Airports, Dr Rafael Echevarne, said some $100 million would be spent on the Sangster International Airport over the next few years to improve services.
“This is an exciting time for MBJ because we are initiating the third phase of our development at the airport,” he said.
That includes improving infrastructure on the ramp site such as the apron and taxiway, but also, he noted, “We’re doing runway extension, the terminal extension, renovation of the commercial facilities and many other things, including very important works with immigration to ensure that the experience entering Jamaica is as smooth as possible.”
Southwest VP Torbert said the addition of the new route signals an all-time summer records of six departures a day to Jamaica with the other flights out of Baltimore/Washington, Chicago, Orlando and Houston.