Ja tourism figures rise

KINGSTON, Jamaica – A double-digit percentage increase in December tourist arrivals has bolstered hopes that the industry will weather the shocks of a global economic recession, despite earlier fears that reduced travel would send the sector into free fall.

Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett, expressed cautious optimism that the winter tourist season, which officially kicked off Monday, would experience a turnaround in fortunes.

“The flight from Los Angeles came in full and that is a good beginning for the season. We are expecting that other flights will come in full, as well,” he said Monday.

“December has started off well so far, with a 14.9 per cent increase over last year, for the first week, and we are now waiting for the numbers for the second week and the numbers will get better as the month progresses.”

Bartlett’s spirits would have been lifted by Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s unveiling, hours before the start of the season, of a wide-ranging relief package geared towards cushioning recessionary pressures on the Jamaican economy.

Key planks of the stimulus package will see big concessions for the tourism industry, such as a halving of general consumption tax for six months and a $500-million loan reservoir for capital stakeholders struggling with cash-flow problems.

Two United States travellers, the first couple to arrive as the winter season got under way, received a warm welcome from a delegation of senior tourism officials and travel stakeholders, headed by Bartlett.

At approximately 7:50 a.m. Monday, an Air Jamaica flight arrived in Montego Bay, St James, flying Bruce and Norma Yarbrough into the island for their maiden visit.

The Yarbroughs said they were surprised by the special greeting awaiting them after disembarking the plane. John Lynch, director of tourism, Carrole Guntley, director general in the tourism ministry, and Godfrey Dyer, chairman of the Tourism Enhancement Fund, were part of the welcome entourage.

Mrs Yarbrough was handed a bouquet, while her husband was presented with a large guidebook with information on Jamaica. Also on hand was Parsha Buddo, Air Jamaica’s area sales manager, who presented the Yarbroughs with two return tickets to Jamaica. Couples Resorts Chief Executive Officer Glenn Lawrence also bore gifts, dishing out a complimentary four-night, four-day stay for the couple.

“We are so surprised. We had no idea that a special welcome was being planned for us,” remarked Mrs Yarbrough.

She said she and her husband, both retirees, were encouraged by her sister to visit Jamaica.