Despite higher cruise arrivals, Jamaica tourism industry still troubled
The 2013 tourism outlook for Jamaica appears mixed, particularly with regard to cruise-ship arrivals, though the island has seen an increase in airlift from new markets like Russia, while several new megaprojects could give the industry a boost.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller has announced several economic initiatives for Jamaica during 2013. Among other things, she said, “there will be an injection of over $200 million in capital expenditure with projects, including leisure hotels Riu Palace and Fiesta Phase II, as well as Shanghai and Marriott business hotels.”
In 2012, Jamaica received just over 3.3 million tourists, up from 3.08 million in 2011 and 2.83 million in 2010. Yet while cruise-ship passenger arrivals made up only 32 percent of the pie in 2010, they comprised 40 percent of all visitor arrivals last year.
The problem is that cruise passengers tend to spend far less in a given destination than do stayovers. On top of that, average spending per tourist was down slightly in the quarter ending September 2012 compared to year-ago levels. And the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy in the northeastern United States — one of Jamaica’s top sources of tourism — clearly had an impact on the island, not to mention continuing difficulties in the eurozone that have sapped Europeans’ spending power.
“Major economies from where visitors come continue to have challenges,” said Evelyn Smith, president of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association. “In a climate such as this, operators can’t increase rates or, in some cases, discounting continues, albeit not as deep as a few years ago.”
On the other hand, arrivals from Latin America have been growing at 50 percent, with nearly 23,000 tourists from that region coming to Jamaica in the first 11 months of 2012 — up from 15,200 between January and November 2011.
That’s been helped by the lifting of visa restrictions from Venezuela, Panama and Colombia, as well as new Copa Airlines flights between Panama City and Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport. That’s in addition to Copa’s regular four-times-a-week service between Panama City and Kingston.
Efforts by the Ministry of Tourism to boost airlift into Jamaica from emerging markets in Eastern Europe have also had some success. In late December, a Boeing jet with 84 passengers aboard arrived from the Czech Republic to Montego Bay. It was the first of 12 such rotations from Prague, boosting arrivals for the winter tourist season.
Sandra Scott, deputy director of tourism in charge of marketing, said Jamaica also received an inaugural Transaero flight from Moscow on Jan. 1 with 300 passengers. Tour operator Biblio Globus, in association with Transaero, organized that flight.
Cruise ship traffic down
Cruise ship calls to Jamaica, however, fell from 68 to 53 during the first nine months of 2012, with most of that decline occurring at the recently inaugurated $200 million Falmouth cruise-ship port. Ocho Rios, which had already been in decline, received 20 percent fewer passengers as ship calls fell from 27 to 21. Montego Bay fared slightly better, with overall numbers relatively stagnant or up slightly from 2011.
Smith said tourist attractions to the east are less likely to benefit from Falmouth given the drop-off in cruise arrivals. The problem has been compounded by new taxes on the tourism sector that since year imposes a guest accommodation tax of $1-4 per room per night, depending on the size of the hotel.
“We continue to be resilient despite escalating costs, natural disasters and taxation,” she said. “Some members continue to grow and expand.”
Jamaica currently has 28,000 hotel rooms (not including 3,300 that belong to some 50 closed properties). That number will rise dramatically with the construction of several megaprojects, including Excellence Resorts — which will build a total of 1,650 rooms in Trelawny — and the $2.5 billion Harmony Cove Resort, also in Trelawny, which foresees building 5,000 rooms. The first phase of that project costs $900 million and is supposed to be finished in three years.
A key infrastructure project likely to boost tourism is a 230-kilometer multi-lane highway that will connect Kingston with both Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. The road, being built by China Harbour Engineering Co., for $600 million, is to be completed by the end of 2015.