Jamaica, which recently inaugurated a new prime minister, expects “substantial growth” in tourist arrivals this year.
Andrew Holness, who was sworn-in Mar. 3, quickly named Edmund Bartlett the new minister of tourism, replacing Wykeham McNeill. It’s unclear what policies Bartlett, 65, will pursue as tourism minister under Holness; he returns to that post for the first time since 2011, when his Jamaica Labour Party lost Jamaica’s general elections.
Before his departure, McNeill — speaking at a recent press breakfast — predicted Jamaica would benefit from “unprecedented levels” of hotel development that began in 2015 and will continue well into 2018.
By far the most ambitious is a plan by Florida-based Karisma Hotels & Resorts to build 4,000 rooms along Jamaica’s northern coast over the next decade. The first 1,200 rooms will open in time for the 2017-18 winter season after two years of construction, according to the Daily Gleaner.
The 4,000 rooms in that $900 million venture will be spread across nine hotels to be developed on 228 acres of beachfront land in St. Ann, said Dennis Morrison, chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board. He said the $900 million price tag does not include the $45 million Karisma is spending on the 149-room Azul 7 hotel now under construction in Negril.
The Gleaner said that property is next door to the 138-room Azul Sensatori, which used to be part of Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart’s Sandals inventory but is now managed by Karisma on behalf of itself and partners that include British airline conglomerate TUI.
“Karisma was so very impressed with the performance of their first resort that they moved immediately to identify land to expand their presence in Jamaica,” Morrison said, adding “that first resort, immediately on its opening, was running 100% occupancy, which is most unusual in the tourism industry.”
A number of other large-scale projects are also in the works, including Playa Resorts’ 621-room Hyatt Zilara/Hyatt Ziva Montego Bay; Palace Resorts’ 705-room Moon Palace Jamaica Grande in Ocho Reios, and the 226-room Meliá Braco Village in Trelawney. There’s also a 129-room Courtyard by Marriott going up in Kingston.
Jamaica also depends heavily on cruise traffic. During the 2014-15 season, reports the Caribbean Tourism Organization, Jamaica received 1.5 million cruise passengers, generating $198.6 million in total revenues. That placed Jamaica sixth in the Caribbean after St. Maarten, Bahamas, Cozumel, U.S. Virgin Islands and Cayman Islands.
A project is underway to build a cruise ship pier in Kingston. Funding is unclear, but Desmond Malcolm, general manager of the Urban Development Corp. (UDC) says his agency is currently in talks with the Port Authority of Jamaica (PUJ) to construct one.
“We believe that the cruise ships will be coming back to Kingston, and we are working to ensure that it becomes a reality,” Malcolm told the Gleaner.
Falmouth, the island’s newest cruise port, was a $269 million venture involving the UDC, the PAJ and Royal Caribbean. Last year, Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport — an easy $40 taxi ride from Falmouth — saw a record 14,000 passengers come through on Dec. 22, the most ever to pass through Sangster on a single day.