JAPEX—Part 1

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The MoBay City Run is a charitable event that draws both locals and visitors.
The MoBay City Run is a charitable event that draws both locals and visitors.

At the annual Jamaican Product Exchange (JAPEX), Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill reminded all of us in attendance, “A few years ago Jamaica broke the 2 milllion mark for stayovers. Counting cruise passengers, we welcome 3.5 million visitors annually.” What’s more, Dr. McNeill said, “1,600 new, high-end rooms opened this year alone, and we expect about 6,000 over the next five or six years.” And that’s just for starters…

Cuba: Threat or Opportunity?
“The Caribbean landscape has changed with the opening of Cuba,” declared Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association president Nicola Madden-Greig, who views Cuba not as a threat, but an opportunity. She envisions visits to the western Caribbean along the lines of the Mediterranean model of multi-country travel. “A twin marketing strategy of Jamaica-Cuba could provide useful synergies. After all, we have the largest Spanish-speaking island and the largest English-speaking island, so in essence, two languages, two cultures, a shared history and twice the fun!” That might sound over-optimistic, but, Madden Greig added, “We have already seen movement in this direction with one of our Canadian partners introducing a Montego Bay-Cuba itinerary.”

Kingston Ascending
By reducing driving time between Ocho Rios and Kingston to 1.5 hours (for the airport, add about 20 minutes), the highway slated for completion in the first quarter of 2016 will affect travel at least two ways.

First, say tourism officials, it will increase day trips to cultural attractions in Kingston, such as the Bob Marley sites and the Devon House. The Courtyard Kingston that opens in November—LEED certified, no less—will be the first new-build hotel in Kingston since the 1980s, and the improved highways is likely to generate more hotels.

Second, although visitors to Ocho Rios have typically flown into MoBay (MBJ), many will start using the Kingston airport (KIN) instead. In fact, Guillermo Oliva Mendoza, one of the managers at the new Moon Palace Jamaica Grande, told me, “We expect so many people to make the switch that we will provide free transfers from Kingston as well as from Montego Bay.”

Sports ‘r’ Us
The two Jasons—Jason Hall, deputy director of tourism, cruise, attractions & events for the Jamaican Tourist Board, and Jason Henzel, chairman of Jakes Treasure Beach and Breds Treasure Beach Sports Park & Academy—co-chaired a meeting about using sports to drive visits to Jamaica. Capitalizing on its track stars and world-class facilities in settings for several other sports, the Jasons predict that Jamaica will host more “mega-events, championships, tournaments, sports courses, sports conferences, professional sports, cause-related events, media events (e.g. skins golf tournaments), showcases, created sport events, and one-off sporting events.” Referring to the world track-and-field events in China, Dr. McNeill quipped, “I offered myself as an alternate in the 400.”

For the lowdown on new hotels, don’t miss Part 2 of our Caribbean editor Ed Wetschler’s JAPEX report: recommend.com/destinations/caribbean-bermuda/japex-part-2.