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Minister of Tourism and Entertainment, the Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill has explained that the tourism sector is in a state of transition, in response to changes in the industry and the economic conditions in the island’s main source markets. The Minister made this pronouncement as he addressed sector interests at the Commissioning Ceremony for the new Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) sponsored Hyperbaric Chamber at the Discovery Bay Marine Laboratory in St. Ann.
Minister McNeill said “we have been experiencing a transition in our industry that, coupled with the persisting global economic conditions in markets such as the US, North America and the UK, has substantially affected our industry performance.”
Dr. McNeill emphasized that “the UK has been struggling through a triple dip recession. This has had significant negative impact on a major international travel agency brand, Thomas Cook. That company owns Sunquest, a tour operator that operates the Thomas Cook air charter service on which Jamaica has relied greatly for airlift out of Canada.” He added that “Thomas Cook’s internal problems have led to a realignment of its business, which included disbanding the airline in Canada. This, in addition to difficulties being experienced by Transat Canada, has resulted in a shortfall of over 20,000 seats to Jamaica.”
Minister McNeill outlined that there has been significant dislocation and transition on the local scene as well. He explained that “one of our local stalwart brands has been releasing its major properties, while other established brands continue to join our industry: Blue Diamond Resorts has taken over the Trelawny Beach Hotel, in which 349 rooms have been off the market that would have normally been used by Canadian visitors.” Additionally Melia Hotels has taken over the Braco Village, Karisma Resorts has taken over the Poinciana property in Negril and RIU Resorts has 250 upscale rooms under construction in Montego Bay.
The Minister was quick to note that the prospects for the sector remain bright as steps have been taken to ensure its continued development. He said “our tourism sector is still vibrant and as we go through these transitions, we expect to see strong investment commitment resulting in increased room stock, further bolstering the product.”
He explained that “having started with two flights per week, Copa Airlines will be doubling their weekly flights to Jamaica this summer, with four flights to Kingston and four to Montego Bay, as we witness the relaxation of the visa regime taking effect.” The Minister said this will provide great opportunity for Jamaica in Latin-America. The Eastern European markets are showing great potential, with Russia in particular starting to produce good numbers.” This comes on the heels of the recently announced Cabinet decision to approve the waiving of visa requirements for nationals of Russia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Ukraine in a bid to open these markets.
Minister McNeill was quick to note that “the UK market will show improvements this summer as Virgin Atlantic increases to three weekly flights into Montego Bay, up from two for last summer.”