Ja tourism industry suffering

KINGSTON, Jamaica – Hit by a decline in visitor arrivals for the winter tourist season, preliminary reports are that Jamaica accommodated approximately 12,000 fewer tourists and suffered a potential loss of US$12 million in revenue.

The 2006-07 winter tourist season, which officially ended yesterday, was a mixed blessing, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Horace Peterkin told The Gleaner.

“Some properties bettered last year’s performance; the new giant players (Spanish hotels) also entered the fray with a bang, commanding extremely high occupancy levels. However, many existing hotels – large, medium and small – did not fare as well. The worst off were the small indigenous hotels.”

He said that some 10-12 small Negril properties are up for sale.

The JHTA president said the winter season’s final figures are yet to be confirmed, but are likely to be three to four per cent below last year’s, owing to the downturn of 0.7 per cent in January, 4.0 per cent in February and 3.0 per cent in March.

Reevaluation necessary

According to Peterkin, for the country to get back on track, each market has to be examined individually to determine the reasons for the variance in business over last year, and then take steps to “fix” the problems.

“Some markets exceeded their last year figures quite substantially. Chief among them was the Canadian market that jumped by almost 30 per cent (approximately 20,000 visitors). Another market that showed substantial increase was the U.K. (which should end at around 20 per cent or 8,000 visitors – some of which is directly related to Cricket World Cup, with at least 3,000 representing fans of the surprise Super Eight team, Ireland).

Markets such as Spain, Portugal and Belgium also saw excellent percentage increases (due to the marketing of the new Spanish hotels), but represent only about 2,000 visitors.”

Fewer us visitors

His big concern is the country’s bread-basket, the United States. U.S. visitor arrivals seem to have fallen by about 12 per cent or some 75,000-80,000 visitors. “What is particularly distur-bing is that the fall in arrivals is from all four regions of the U.S. – North-east, Midwest, South and West Coast!”

He is suggesting the redoubling of marketing efforts by both his members and the Jamaica Tourist Board. He called on the Government to increase the JTB’s marketing budget, so that it can launch the right assault on the market.

“Due to the current increase in room capacity, plus the many outside factors affecting stopover arrivals, we estimate that a budgetary increase from US$34 million to US$45 million annually is needed to sustain the level of destination marketing required.

An immediate measure that he is recommending is an injection of US$4.5 million-US$5 million.

Commenting on the decline, the island’s tourism director, Basil Smith, said the JTB’s strategy would be to create a more balanced ratio between the supplier markets, combined with promotional efforts by the country’s new hotels and tour operating partners and favourable economic conditions in Europe and Canada, which helped to compensate somewhat for the decline in arrivals from the U.S.

He admitted tha there was record-breaking increase in the Canadian and European markets, this was not enough to offset cumulative stopover decreases, but has however, helped in softening the blow out of the U.S.

“Cancun’s return to market and the U.S. passport requirement are all factors in this, as is the unusually warm winter experienced in the U.S. North-east,” he argued.

He is, however, encouraged by reports from the island’s leading US tour operators that forward bookings are picking up and have been outpacing 2006 from May onward.

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