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MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica, Tuesday, January 9, 2018: Jamaica closed out its 2017 tourism year, shattering all previous records for the fast-growing industry.
“Last year was a signature year for growth in tourism; we ended the year with 4.3 million visitors coming to Jamaica. That wasn’t an ordinary record because it meant that nearly 500,000 more visitors came to Jamaica in a single year, which has never happened anywhere in this part of the Anglophobe Caribbean,” disclosed Minister of Tourism, Hon Edmund Bartlett today.
His remarks coincided with the signing of a US$40 million loan agreement between MBJ Airports Limited, operator of the Sangster International Airport and SIA, and Scotiabank to expand and upgrade some areas of the airport.
Minister Bartlett said last year’s growth in arrivals eclipsed the total increase of the previous four years. Also, foreign exchange earnings for the year reached approximately US$3 billion and “that means that even at a 30 percent retention, US$1 billion has been in circulation the pockets of Jamaicans as a result of the performance last year.”
He intimated that this contributed to the stability and appreciation of the Jamaican dollar.
As the growth trend continued into 2018, Minister Bartlett is elated that “the year has started with a bang; notwithstanding the freezing of the North and the closing of key airports in the whole North-eastern seaboard, which is the breadbasket for us, in our first week we had a 5.7 percent growth in arrivals.”
Noting that 37,000 of them came through the airport, Mr Bartlett attested that “the expansion for MBJ is very timely and we can’t wait as the Custom Halls and Immigration section are bursting at the seams and the traffic is heavy.”
Chief Executive Officer of MBJ Airports, Dr. Rafael Echevarne outlined that the loan would be invested in renovating the ticketing hall, rehabilitating airside pavements, installing new security machines, upgrade systems and acquire specialized equipment to clean the airport.
He disclosed that passenger traffic through the airport had grown from a low of minus 4.4 percent in 2009 to a positive 8.4 percent increase in 2017 which he described as “a spectacular year”. With as many as 8 international flights at any one time “there are times when we struggle to find space to park the aircraft,” said Dr. Echevarne. He said it also put pressure on many of the government agencies, mainly immigration and customs, operating at the airport.
Meanwhile, Minister of Transport and Mining, Hon Michael Henry said government was working assiduously to advance the aviation sector and underscored that with Sangster International being one of the largest airports in the region providing an experience to visitors, “it is important that we ensure that when they visit they want to come back.”
He spoke of transforming the airport to a world class facility while ensuring “that airports continued compliance to local and international standards of safety and aviation security.”
“With the expansion of the runway it will now be able to facilitate heavy aircraft, taking off from Montego Bay and able to reach as far as Turkey. The airport catchment area is also being increased as a result of the extend runway,” said Minister Henry.
Among those signing the US$40 million loan facility were President and Chief Executive Officer of Scotiabank, David Hall; Minister Henry, Dr. Echevarne and Director of Finance, MBJ Airports, Mrs Julian Ann Palmer.