By Blake Wolfe, Pax News
With new hotels bringing approximately 15,000 new rooms and the development of St. Thomas Parish as the country’s next travel hotspot, the next few years are set to mark an evolution in Jamaica’s tourism offering.
During a recent discussion with PAX, the Jamaica Tourist Board’s Director of Tourism Donovan White and Canadian Regional Director Angella Bennett shared the latest developments in the destination and offered a glimpse into the future of Jamaica’s tourism sector.
White and Bennett were recently joined in Canada by Jamaica’s Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett, making a stop at Sunwing Travel Group’s Toronto headquarters to discuss an incoming Planet Hollywood resort, which will bring 680 rooms to Trelawny with an expected opening date of late 2021.
“We’re expecting to move to action fairly rapidly,” White told PAX, adding that an official announcement on the property is expected soon.
However, Planet Hollywood is just one piece of the resort puzzle: with Jamaica looking to add 15,000 rooms over the next five years – 5,500 of which will come online by late 2021/early 2022, White said – travellers will have several new resorts to look forward to. Among them are:
- a new H10 property, Ocean Coral Spring, bringing 520 rooms to Montego Bay later this year (with another 480 rooms opening there next May);
- a 2,000-room Palace Resorts development, breaking ground in Hanover next year;
- the announcement of a new AMResorts development, also in Hanover, featuring a 500-room adults-only Sunscapes resort and a 300-room, family-centric Dreams property;
- a 1,245-room Hard Rock Hotels & Resorts development in Montego Bay, with construction expected to start in the first quarter of 2020; and
- the commissioning of Karisma’s first 900 rooms of a planned 4,000 room development in St. Ann Parish.
“Our strategy is to add 15,000 rooms over the next five years,” White said, adding that the new hotels will increase Jamaica’s room inventory to approximately 47,000 – the third largest in the Caribbean behind the Dominican Republic and Mexico. “We’re being very aggressive with our partners to ensure that those timelines are solidified and because our other partners – the airlines and tour operators – are keen on locking in those dates.”
And with Canadian visitation on the rise, Jamaica will have little trouble filling those rooms: according to White, more than 400,000 Canadians visited Jamaica in 2018 (with 2019 on track to top that number), with the tourism board eyeing 500,000 annual Canadian visitors by the end of 2021. Of those bookings, more than 60 per cent were made via travel agent, making the trade an indispensable booking channel for the destination, White added.
While Montego Bay and Negril may come to mind first when discussing travel to Jamaica, White said that the eyes of the tourism sector and real estate developers have now turned to St. Thomas Parish, located east of Kingston and “boasting some of the best beaches in Jamaica, set against the backdrop of the Blue Mountains,” White said.
According to White, St. Thomas is currently being eyed as a spot for “low-density, low-impact” construction focused on sustainable tourism (such as the expansion of Jamaica’s emerging wellness offerings, including a segment incorporating cannabis in various spa treatments) and offering a laid-back vibe. At least one developer has already expressed an interest in developing 200 acres (located near Kingston) for a resort property, White said.
Increased connectivity to St. Thomas will soon be available via a new stretch of highway currently under construction, connecting Kingston to Port Antonio in the country’s northeast, White said, explaining that the positioning of St. Thomas as a tourism destination goes hand in hand with the development of tourism infrastructure in nearby Kingston and Port Royal, the latter of which is slated for a new cruise terminal in the coming years.
“We’ve done extensive studies on St. Thomas as a tourism destination, in relation to accommodations, attractions and infrastructure, as well as residential living,” White said, adding that such growth will be managed in order to maintain St. Thomas’ uniqueness. “It’s the next frontier for expanding our tourism offering.”
And as more resort properties open in Jamaica, White said that the tourist board continues to emphasize the uniqueness and authenticity of the destination.
“What has been the driving force of our latest marketing campaign is the focus on the differentiators of the destinations – our people, our music, our food and our heritage,” he said. “You already know Jamaica has great resorts – we want to highlight all of the other things that you often don’t read about. We want to bring that front and centre; it’s these experiences that are going to influence the decision of travellers.”