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MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA, Friday, December 15, 2017: The tourism industry started its traditional high season today shattering all previous records for arrivals by welcoming the four millionth visitor to Jamaica for the year.
Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett led a team of officials in a surprise welcome at Montego Bay’s Sangster International Airport for Jill Bell of Wisconsin, USA, who with her husband Stephen has been to Jamaica 25 times.
At a VIP reception for the history-making visitor, Minister Bartlett said, “I’m very proud as minister today to be the fortunate one standing in the breach as the four millionth visitor graces the shores of this beautiful country.”
He disclosed that the four million visitors comprised 1.9 million cruise passengers and 2.1 million stop over tourists. Also, he said it was expected that the year would end with about 2.3 million stopovers and 2.1 million cruise arrivals combined, contributing just under US$3 billion to the economy.
Matched against last year’s arrival figures, nearly 500,000 new visitors will be travelling to Jamaica this year for a total of 4.3 million “and that is a record of all records,” said Minister Bartlett. Realization of these numbers would mean an 11.6 percent in arrivals and 11.7 percent increase in earnings over last year. He noted that Jamaica has been experiencing record arrivals since April with double-digit growth each succeeding month since then.
At the same time, the Tourism Minister said there would be 100,000 additional seats for the winter and 4,799 new rooms between now and 2019. “In the next few days, we will be concluding discussions with three major investors for ground-breaking activities that will happen in the first quarter of next year and the long-awaited Karisma development will in fact start construction in April of next year for the first three hotels with 2,500 rooms,” he said.
Minister Bartlett reiterated that Jamaica was building out the capacity of more of the small and medium enterprises to become involved in the tourism value chain because 80 percent of global tourism was driven by small and medium enterprises “and all of the people in Jamaica must feel a little more of the economic impact of tourism.”
Meanwhile, Chief Executive Officer of MBJ Airports, Dr Rafael Echevarne said the four percent projected growth in passengers passing through the Sangster International Airport this year had doubled to eight percent. Also, he announced that the board recently approved expenditure of US$40 million for infrastructure improvements, including renovation of the ticketing area, the immigration hall and other public areas. This is in addition to the US$24 million now being spent to improve the apron and taxiway.
Mrs Bell assured that they would be back next year for another Christmas at “our home away from home; it’s our second home as we call it.” Expressing appreciation, she said, “You make us feel welcome and you are part of our family just as how we try to make you a part of our family.”