Report from JAPEX, Part 1: The Big Picture

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View of the beach (well, part of it) from a room at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa. (Photo Credit: Ed Wetschler)
View of the beach (well, part of it) from a room at Jewel Grande Montego Bay Resort & Spa. (Photo Credit: Ed Wetschler)

The Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association marked its 55th anniversary at JAPEX last week, and as JHTA president Omar Robinson noted, more than 105 tour operators and 150 travel agents attended. Let’s start with a few takeaways:

Edmund Bartlett, the minister of tourism, had officially aimed for a five percent growth in the industry. The reality? Tourism is up this year 7.1 percent. That beats GNP growth in the U.S. and Canada, and it even edges out GNP growth in China. (P.S. This summer was up 8.7 percent.)

  • The minister expressed profound concern about climate change—several times, too. I would add that this is an issue that cuts across party lines in the Caribbean, not to mention the Maldives and other island nations.
  • Jamaica has seen tremendous growth in its all-inclusive resort capacity, but Robinson said, “We [also] want to develop our EP product.” That would certainly be in synch with the tourism ministry’s push for more experiential and immersive travel, because just for starters, visitors would be going out to eat more.
  • On which subject, “Kingston is hot!” he said, what with tourists paying more visits to the capital city. “You cannot underestimate the impact of our new north-south highway,” he added, pointing out that Jamaica is now “like two destinations.”
  • “I don’t want people to play golf in Jamaica,” declared Donald (Donnie) Dawson, deputy director of tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB). “I want people to come to Jamaica to play golf.” Expect to see more emphasis on marketing the country’s great courses in the coming year.
  • In addition, expect a greater emphasis on marketing gastronomy, “not just to ‘enhance’ the experience, but because 88 percent of the world travels for food,” said Minister Bartlett. To that end, JTB is creating a culinary trail. Rest assured, it will feature the Devon House.
  • JTB plans to increase marketing based upon health and wellness, too. “Jamaica has this rich biodiversity and ability to extract oils and wraps,” explained the minister, adding, “one of the richest sources of medical applications is marijuana.” For better or for worse, he really is focused on medical uses of marijuana: He reminded everyone, “We are not headed toward recreational use.”

Finally, note that new properties are contributing to this growth. They include Royal Decameron Cornwall Beach (so now Jamaica has three Royal Decameron Resorts), Grand Lido (effectively a new resort, given the renovations and the new management company, Royalton), Royalton Negril Resort & Spa, the adults-only Hideaway at Royalton Negril, and Breathless Resort & Spa. The all-suite Jewel Grande and 49-suite Zoetry Montego Bay celebrated their grand openings during JAPEX (now, that was fireworks!). And coming soon: Spanish Court Montego Bay (an EP resort where Breezes stood), Azul Beach (plus 51 additional rooms at Azul Sensatori) in Negril, and the 5-star R Hotel in Kingston.

No, I’m not done yet. You’re also going to see a new Hard Rock, H10, Marley Bay, a 750-room expansion by Grupo Excellence, and more. The growth story in Jamaica could go on—and it will.

See Part 2 of the JAPEX bulletins: a first-hand report on some of these new hotels.