REMARKS BY MINISTER OF TOURISM, HON. EDMUND BARTLETT AT THE OFFICIAL WELCOME OF THE SOUTHWEST FLL/MBJ INAUGURAL FLIGHT SANGSTER INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT (SIA), MONTEGO BAY SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 2017
Submitted by DwayneWilson on Fri, 05/25/2018 - 17:21
Councillor Leeroy Williams – Deputy Mayor of Montego Bay
Ms Ellen Torbert – Vice President, Diversity and Inclusion, Southwest Airlines and other Southwest Executives
Dr. Rafael Echvarne – CEO MBJ Airports Limited
Chairman and Executive Directors of our Tourism Agencies
Mr. David Dobson – Senior Director, Technical Services, Ministry of Tourism
Mr. Robert Headley – Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Montego Bay Chapter Chair
Other Colleagues from the Ministry of Tourism and its Agencies
Local and International Media
Ladies and Gentlemen
It is indeed a pleasant occasion that brings us all together this afternoon as we welcome Southwest Airline’s inaugural non-stop flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to our tourism capital Montego Bay.
I had the pleasure of coming in on the flight and it was absolutely wonderful. Congratulations to the flight crew.
We welcome the thousands of additional seats and increased connectivity that will result from this new route as we seek to achieve our goal of attracting five million visitors by 2021.
At the same time, it marks the strengthening of the partnership between Jamaica and America’s largest low-cost carrier, which began in July 2014 with Southwest’s inaugural flight from Baltimore/Washington International Airport to Sangster International Airport (MBJ).
Southwest Airline is synonymous with vision and innovativeness. It is these traits that enabled the airline to expand from its ‘humble’ beginnings in 1971 as a small regional carrier serving the state of Texas into the largest carrier of domestic passengers in the USA.
In 2014, when Southwest Airlines turned its sights on international routes Jamaica was its first choice. What a magnificent vote of confidence!
Three years later, in addition to Baltimore, we have Southwest coming to Jamaica from Chicago, Orlando, Houston and now, Florida.
Ladies and Gentlemen, in less than three years of operation, Southwest has become the fourth largest carrier to the island – bringing in 180,000 visitors in 2016.
I note that Southwest has built a new five-gate, international concourse at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, as part of its strategy to grow its international presence. This is tangible proof of Southwest’s considerable progress and the exciting future that lies ahead. Jamaica wants to be a part of that journey.
Today, Southwest’s low-cost, better-service-quality model is copied by airlines the world over and is an example of how small players can become industry leaders in the highly competitive travel and tourism industry.
We in Jamaica know all about that, as we definitely punch above our weight in tourism as one of the top destinations in the world.
While we continue to seek out new source markets for visitors to Jamaica, we have not lost sight of the fact that the USA remains our number one market – representing over 60% of visitor arrivals to our island.
STATE OF THE SECTOR
Jamaica’s tourism sector has been experiencing great success. In the first four months of 2017, the sector earned a record US$1 billion – a 6.5 per cent increase over the same period last year.
We had a total of 1,579,273 visitors between January and April overall – 795,193 were from stopover arrivals, while 784,080 were from cruise shipping.
The combined 13.6 per cent increase in both cruise shipping and stopover earnings when compared to the corresponding (January-April) period last year shows excellent sector performance, which we intend to build on.
These visitor numbers are the result of the enduring relationships we have forged with our tourism partners – airlines, hotels, cruise lines, tour operators, ground transportation and local stakeholders – which are stimulating sustainable growth in the tourism sector.
AIRLIFT AND TOURISM SUCCESS
As we all know, a destination is as successful as it is accessible.
Consistent, reliable and competitive airlift is the lifeblood of our tourism sector. We are therefore taking strategic steps to target new markets and increase the number of flights to boost tourism arrivals on a sustained basis.
Our tourism partners like Southwest Airlines, who provide regular and reliable airlift to the island, have greatly contributed to helping Jamaica achieve our goal of increasing passenger traffic and we will continue to build on this partnership.
We have had noteworthy success in our efforts to secure new airlift. I am pleased to announce that there will be weekly charter flights from Spain and Portugal to Jamaica beginning next month.
The Portugal flights will be operated by Orbest from June 9 to September 29 out of the capital city Lisbon using a 388-seat Airbus 330 aircraft.
Meanwhile, the Spain flights will be operated by Evelop non-stop out of Madrid into Montego Bay from June 25 to October 28, also using a 388-passenger capacity Airbus 330.
In addition, one of Europe’s leading airlines, Eurowings, a subsidiary of Lufthansa, will begin operating twice weekly scheduled service between Germany’s largest populated metropolitan region, Bonn/Cologne, and Montego Bay as of July 3 this year.
My Ministry and its agencies are working diligently to provide a product and a service that both meets and exceed the expectations of our visitors as well as our important tourism partners.
I am happy to assure Southwest that much work is being done to improve and enhance the visitors’ experience at Sangster International Airport.
We are also taking steps to ensure the availability of “first class accommodation” for our visitors and Montego Bay is on track in attracting new hotel investments, with 1000 new rooms coming on stream this year and over 2,000 within the next four to five years.
Of course, crucial to the effective development of our tourism product is destination assurance, which ensures our credibility in the marketplace. It is delivering on our promise.
To that end, last week we launched the Destination Assurance Councils for six resort areas – Negril; Montego Bay; Falmouth; St. Ann and St. Mary; Portland and St. Thomas; and Kingston and the South Coast – that have been tasked with ensuring that the quality, standards and integrity of Jamaica’s tourism product are maintained.
We are taking seriously the need to enhance the country's overall visitor experience so that we can guarantee a safe, secure and seamless vacation.
In conclusion, I wish to say that we are happy to have Southwest Airlines as a tourism partner. Based on your track record of growth and performance, we know that we can look forward to long and successful partnership as we continue to work to maintain our position as a world class destination.