Report from JAPEX, Part 1: The Big Picture—Highways, Culture, and Even Cuba

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Mountains in Jamaica. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)
The Blue Mountains in Jamaica.

How might the land of alright get alrighter? At the 26th annual JAPEXJamaican Product Exchange—Jamaican tourism leaders are offering answers.

Hon. Edmund Bartlett plans to step up the trend toward cultural tourism, so he’s thrilled with the new highway system connecting cities like Montego Bay and Ocho Rios to Kingston. The four-lane toll road cuts the drive from MoBay to the capital to just two hours, so, as Island Routes Caribbean Adventures trade development manager Richard Moss III explained to me, the company can now and will greatly expand day trips from Montego Bay to Kingston. As it is, he said, “The average couple staying for one week at a Sandals Resort will take three Island Routes tours.”

Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)
Jamaican Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)

Moreover, said Minister Bartlett, “cruise ship passengers arriving in the Ocho Rios port can now easily schedule visits to the historical and cultural sites of Spanish Town and Kingston.” New charter flights also enable visitors to Ocho Rios resorts to arrive via Norman Manley International Airport (KIN) rather than Sangster International Airport (MBJ). The highways even make it possible to combine a few days at the beach, via MBJ, with a few days in Kingston, departing via KIN. They also opened new areas to tourism: such as the 2,400 hotel rooms, which will be built in Mammee Bay alone.

Nicola Madden-Greig, president of JHTA (the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association), has long encouraged multi-island tourism, and the new government that brought Bartlett back to the ministry has listened: This week Jamaica will sign a joint marketing agreement with Cuba, and shortly after that, it will bring the Dominican Republic into the fold. “The way forward is collaboration,” declared Minister Bartlett, who emphasizes the cultural differences among western Caribbean nations—Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica—as an advantage.

A local on a banana boat at Port Antonio in Jamaica. (Photo credit: Ed Wetschler)
A local on a banana boat at Port Antonio in Jamaica.

Bartlett also espouses new forms of accommodations, from family-owned enterprises to timeshares, “one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global hospitality industry,” adding that “there is significant potential for further growth… of the timeshare product in the Caribbean, and especially in Jamaica.” To that end, Bartlett promoted the Timeshare Vacation Act in 2014, when it was passed but was never put into effect. Now that his party is in power, he said, “I am pleased to announce that the Act becomes operational on May 1, 2016.”

What does all this mean for Jamaica’s hotels? On the one hand, 85 percent of the hotel rooms in the land of alright are at all-inclusives, and that category remains strong. On the other hand, the diversification of product—Jamaica’s increased emphasis on new regions, family-owned accommodations, cultural and adventure tourism, and even multi-island tourism—is already affecting hotels. Stay tuned for Part 2 of this report on some hotel news from JAPEX. For more information, visit