By Denise Mattia
“Irie?” Ms. Nicola Madden-Greig, President of the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association (JHTA) asked the audience at the official welcome reception for JAPEX 2015. A robust “Irie!” filled the room.
Irie (pronounced eye-ray) is Jamaican Patois for “doin’ alright.” It fits Jamaica’s profile perfectly. Since the beginning of 2015, the country has seen an increase of 3.1 percent in stopover visitors, and a total of 1.26 million cruise ship passengers. “Jamaica will continue to be a dominant player in the Caribbean tourism market for the next 25 years and beyond,” prophesized Ms. Madden-Greig.
Ms. Madden-Greig believes the opening of Cuba is an opportunity to “promote a new Caribbean” with Jamaica, Cuba, and the neighboring islands providing experiences to travelers similar to those of the Mediterranean. The JHTA president also noted that Jamaica is the largest English- and Spanish-speaking island that shares its culture and history with Cuba.
The Honorable Dr. Wykeham McNeill, MP welcomed the new Hyatt Ziva and Zilara to Montego Bay, Moon Palace to Ocho Rios, Karisma to Negil and, opening in December, Melia in Trelawny. Expansion projects include the Gran Bahia Principe, the rebranding of Sandals Ochi, Holiday Inn and Sunscape Resorts in Montego Bay. The international brand Courtyard by Marriott was introduced to Kingston in November. With the completion of the highway in January 2016 the commute from Kingston to Montego Bay will be slightly more than two hours.
A site inspection of Sandals Royal Caribbean, where we were staying, revealed the all-new luxury suites, featuring a four-poster king-size bed, a Smart TV, comfortable furnishings and butler service. In addition to the large en-suite bathroom there’s also a bathtub on the terrace or a walk-in pool on the ground floor. Under the guidance of the Guild of Professional English Butlers, the Sandals Royal Caribbean offers guests personalized service. (Read Real Butler Moments: Sandals.com/main/royal/rj-butler/.)
Jason Hall, Deputy Director of Cruise Events and Attractions, discussed the topic, Leveraging Sport Tourism to Drive Arrivals. “Jamaica has always performed well in track and field,” he said. “Our athletes broke the nation’s record for the number of medals in the Summer Olympics, and the world is taking notice,” he added. Sports’ events can attract tourism to Jamaica. Tournaments, games and cause-related events raise awareness, offer scholarships to schools and increase Jamaican products and hotel occupancy.
Through an ongoing partnership with Kingston-based JAMPRO (Jamaica Manufacturers Association) and Jamaica Business Development Company, over 100 of Jamaica’s manufacturers and suppliers showcased a wide array of products to JAPEX attendees. Lemongrass scented the Country House booth, Jamaica Made displayed hand-made goods and Chocolate Dreams were sinfully good. Comfy mattresses by Therapedic were also among myriad products on display.
A media roundtable breakfast was held the following day at Hilton Rose Hall with the Honorable Dr. Kenneth Wykeham McNeill MP, Paul Pennicook, Director of Tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), Ms. Nicola Madden-Greig, and representatives from Aimbridge Hospitality, the hotel investment and management company. Aimbridge now manages four all-inclusive resorts on the island: the Hilton Rose Hall Resort & Spa, Jewel Dunn’s River Beach Resort and Spa, Curio by Hilton, Jewel Runaway Bay Golf Resort & Spa and Jewel Paradise Cove Beach Resort & Spa.
Dr. McNeill was pleased to announce that 1,600 new rooms will be built this year. “Jamaica’s performance can be attributed to positive showings in all the source markets, especially in the UK and US, where roughly 54 percent of bookings come from travel agents,” he said. Direct flights from Norway and Sweden are anticipated for 2016 and, “for the first time, we will have direct flights from Dublin, Ireland to Montego Bay,” he concluded. The upcoming season will see 50,000 seats in airlines coming from the U.S.
“The Canadian market is currently soft,” Dr. McNeill said, but “despite the challenges, Jamaica will work hard to share their business with Canada.”
Regarding Cuba, Dr. McNeill pointed out that discussions are under way between the travel industry and the airlines to establish flights between Cuba and Jamaica.
Of particular note during the inspection of Hilton Rose Hall is the Cinnamon Hill Ocean Golf Course, an 18-hole championship golf course designed by Robert Von Hagge and Baril. The course offers both seaside and inland golf, with dramatic hilltop views of the Caribbean and the 18th century Cinnamon Hill Great House. Each of the all-inclusive resort’s 489 modern rooms is ideal for visitors of all ages. Plans are underway to expand the resort to the adjacent property.
The following day we visited the Hyatt Ziva and the adult only Zilara, where we met Kevin Froemming, Executive Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer at Playa Hotels and Resorts. During an interview with him later, Froemming reported that the demand for five-star products and new experiences is what visitors want. The enthusiastic Froemming added, “the Ziva and Zilara are drawing in new customers because of the Hyatt name. You get five-star personalized, heartfelt service. And the dining is new and unique,” he said. There are 14 restaurants and six bars managed by an international culinary staff. “Our Asian fusion restaurant for example is as good as any five-star NY restaurant,” he concluded. Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall and Hyatt Ziva Rose Hall are owned by Playa Hotels & Resorts, B.V. and managed by Playa Resorts Management. (hyatt.com)
Our last site inspection was at the new Moon Palace in Ocho Rios, formerly the Sunset Jamaica Grande. The extensive renovations and upgrades mark Palace Resorts’ latest step outside of Mexico. The tour and luncheon were indications that the Palace Resorts’ signature all-inclusive brand’s standards of excellence have entered the Jamaican market.
We returned to the Sandals Royal Caribbean where the closing gala buffet of JAPEX was held at Sandals Island. No one could resist the juicy, piquant island specialties and visitor favorites. The annual event, hosted by JHTA and JTB offered more than a forum for the country’s leading suppliers to meet with travel wholesalers and tour operators. It was an event to meet “Irie” Jamaicans.
As appeared in November/December issue of Destinations by Jax Fax.
About Denise Mattia
A writer and photographer, Denise Mattia’s works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art , culture, resorts, spas, food and wine and sports’ activities. She's the founder of the soon to be launched Yum-Yum-Traveler, a site devoted to reviewing restaurants in addition to her travel articles from around the world. She lives and works in Manhattan, where she was born.