A 50 per cent decline in the islands spring break market is causing concern in the tourism sector.
Saturday, the first set of spring breakers arrived at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. But, unlike previous years, there was no welcome reception for the college students who up to six years ago, were 25,000 strong in numbers, but are expected to number about 5,000 this season down from approximately 10,000 last year, says a report from the Jamaica Gleaner.
Noting that the decline started about three years ago, and has since spiralled downwards by 10 per cent annually, tourism interests blame the trend partially on the recent requirement by the United States authorities for their citizens reentering the country to present passports under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative.
Lacklustre marketing by the Jamaica Tourist Board, stiff competition from cruise ships, as well as competition from Florida are also posited as contributors to the decline in the arrival of spring breakers to Jamaica.
“A number of students went to get their passports at the end of December, but refused to make vacation bookings because of the six-week waiting period,” explains Karim Kuzbari, president of the New York-based Sunsplash Tours. “They (students) are not the type to do the expediting thing.”
In addition, he discloses that the Florida Pan Handle – Daytona, Panama City Beach – Alcapulco and Cancn in Mexico, are the places that Jamaica is competing against. Americans travelling from Mexico are not yet required to produce passports on re-entry.
Kuzbari argues that the lack of interest in Jamaica by the students is as a result of the original hype about the country becoming very flat.
“Spring break needs to be given the same attention, Jazz and Sumfest are given,” suggests Kuzbari. According to him, the JTB started advertising in the universities late. “The ads ran in January for students booking vacation to come to Jamaica in February and March. There must be a much longer lead time,” the tour operator explains.
However, JTB director Basil Smith his says while it can be surmised that the passport issue could be a factor in the decline in the arrival of spring breakers, it is early days yet to say for certain. “We anticipate a negative impact, but are not yet able to quantify it. Because other destinations in the region do not produce statistics as quickly as Jamaica does, we have no basis for comparison,” he reasons.
“However, there are other indicators that provide some anecdotal feel,” Mr. Smith says. “For example, while we have largely been able to avoid too much mainstream media attention about malaria, blogs online indicate that the travel trade has been discussing it with prospective spring break clients. There’s also evidence that crime is of concern.”
While disclosing that the JTB has invested substantially in advertisements in dozens of college papers at the appropriate time, the JTB director points to the need for improvement in the quality of entertainment.
“On the very first occasion that I spoke publicly as director of tourism, I pointed to the deficiency we have in nightlife and entertainment for visitors, which is ironic, given the success we enjoy in the entertainment industry internationally,” he notes.
For the last 12 years, Margaritaville Jamaica has been one of the spring break headquarters. With March being the biggest month for business, Margaritaville’s owner, Brian Jardim said this year’s figures are a shadow of the student market’s former self. “We usually double our staff in Negril during the period, taking on 100 additional temporary employees, but this year we won’t be able to do that,” he said.
Disappointed as he is with the numbers he, however, notes the upside, that his complexes will get the kids who visit from the ships, “They don’t need the passport to go on the ship.”