Jamaica is an island all-star in the Caribbean—a top choice for travelers from the U.S. and Canada and one of the five most visited destinations in the region. And those numbers are going up year on year. In 2017, U.S. visitors increased by 3.1 percent, while the Canadian market (Jamaica’s second-largest source market) saw a 7.1 percent jump. To keep momentum going, the Jamaican government is planning initiatives and improvements to attract more visitors and lure vacationers out of the resorts and into the surrounding towns and countryside. These initiatives include culinary trails, artisan villages and outdoor adventures, as well as a new emphasis on sustainable tourism and public-private partnerships. At press time, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) projected that Jamaica will receive 4.2 million visitors in 2017, a new record, surpassing 2016’s 3.84 million visitors.
Roughly the size of Connecticut and home to nearly three million people, Jamaica has a service-based economy that largely relies on tourism. In the first half of 2017, the tourism industry earned $1.46 billion, a 5.8 percent rise from the first half of 2016. The island is attracting large infrastructure projects, such as the North-South Highway, a public-private partnership between the Jamaican government and the China Harbour Engineering Company, which invested $730 million. The highway is one of the largest infrastructure developments in Jamaica in decades, and the Chinese-built toll road cut travel time between Kingston and Ocho Rios in half. It was the third phase of Jamaica’s Highway 2000 system, which is planned to extend to Montego Bay.
Security is also a high priority for the Jamaican government, which established the District Constables Training Programme (DCTP), in 2016, and the Destination Assurance Councils, in 2017. The councils were launched in six resort areas around the island and identify and monitor the needs of the areas, while the DCTP adds an extra layer of security and prevents tourist harassment. At the same time, Jamaica continues to promote its strengths. “Jamaica has a globally recognized brand, amazing natural resources, a variety of vacation experiences and great local food,” says Eugenio Macouzet, RCI’s managing director, Caribbean. “It has always been a sought-after destination.”
RCI’s first affiliation in Jamaica was in 1977, and there are currently 18 RCI affiliated resorts. While the country was an early entrant into timeshare, the legal and governmental framework wasn’t developed enough to attract developers in large numbers. But that has changed in recent years. “Jamaica has all the ingredients required for timeshare to be successful, including significant airlift, return visitors, loyal travelers and solid vacation clubs,” Macouzet says. “It’s in a great position to both embrace vacation clubs and keep the growth of traditional timeshare.” For the vacation ownership industry, timeshare in Jamaica is increasingly becoming a shorter-term or flexible vacation-club product rather than a traditional deeded timeshare. The biggest change has been the entrance in recent years of the international all-inclusive brands, the majority of which offer some kind of vacation ownership. “Much of the product sold in Jamaica is not deeded; it’s a membership rather than ownership,” Macouzet says.
Stirring it up
Jamaica sees a rise every year in visitors and is concentrating on sustainable development with a number of partnerships, investments and initiatives. In November 2017, Jamaica hosted the U.N. World Travel Organization (UNWTO) conference on sustainable tourism, jobs and inclusive growth, which explored investment in global tourism and building public-private partnerships around the world. These types of partnerships are important to Jamaica because they are a means to growth for its economy, and they are a priority for the Ministry of Tourism. Currently, Jamaica experiences significant leakage of foreign exchange from tourism—30 cents on the dollar. (Leakage is the amount spent on importing products and services when the local economy can’t provide them.) To help keep that money in-country, artisan villages will be constructed, first in Falmouth and Ocho Rios, both of which see significant cruise-ship traffic. A Craft Development Institute (CDI), part of the Vision 2030 Jamaica National Development Plan, will train artisans and help them get their products into the craft villages. “The establishment of the CDI and the artisan villages will better train Jamaica’s craftspeople to make a living off their work,” says Edmund Bartlett, minister of tourism for Jamaica. “Tourism will play a large role in that.”
Jamaica is also playing up its local and natural resources. The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, in the east of the country, is a UNESCO World Heritage site and has many hiking and mountain-biking trails. Now the JTB aims to establish Jamaica as a global culinary destination with launches such as the Jamaica Blue Mountain Culinary Tour, a trail that is one of the first projects of the Gastronomy Network, a program that promotes culinary tourism across the island. The tour will include cafés, historic sites and producers of the famous Blue Mountain coffee, and it is the type of low-impact tourism that will directly benefit the local community and tour operators. “We are promoting our world-renowned cuisine and will provide visitors with firsthand farm-to-table experiences,” Bartlett says, “including dishes and ingredients that uncover our cultural stories and history.”
Projects such as these will attract more visitors, which attracts more development. “Jamaica has seen explosive growth in new hotels and rooms and the modernization of existing hotels,” Macouzet says. “Because of the good airlift, relatively inexpensive land and educated workforce, Jamaica will continue to see new resorts open.” Jamaica has approximately 28,000 hotel rooms, and by 2021, an additional 15,000 hotel rooms are projected to come online from both new developments and the expansion of existing resorts. In the past two years, AMResorts, Royalton, Moon Palace and Bahia Principe have opened resorts, with a combined total of close to 1,500 new suites.
Primed for growth
With the continued rise in visitor numbers and corresponding hotel boom, the timeshare and vacation industry is becoming an increasing priority for Jamaica. “The timeshare industry has the potential to create new economic opportunities for Jamaicans while fueling investment and enhancing Jamaica’s international appeal,” Bartlett says. “These accommodations are a way for us to diversify our product mix so that we’re able to entice more travelers to the island, particularly repeat visitors.” The industry was boosted with the introduction of the Timeshare Vacations Act, in 2016, which gives legal recognition to timeshares in the form of right-to-use agreements and regulates the marketing, promotion and provision of timeshare accommodation. The Ministry of Tourism also sent a special delegation to ARDA to promote Jamaica as a timeshare destination and to encourage international developers to invest there.
The number of RCI affiliated resorts is surging in response to Jamaica’s healthy tourism environment. “In the past few years, we have heavily grown the number of RCI members who travel to Jamaica,” Macouzet says. In addition, the Jamaican government is a welcome environment for business and those looking for ways to grow the timeshare segment. “Investors and developers are very happy with the market’s performance as the occupancy and ADR are high,” Macouzet says.
As the number of visitors to Jamaica continues to skyrocket, RCI is working to promote and grow the vacation ownership industry on the island in two ways. RCI supports and attends the main trade shows, where current affiliates and prospective clients are presented with the benefits of having a presence in Jamaica. RCI also has specialty member-marketing programs that focus on Jamaica and affiliated resorts there. “Vacation ownership has already seen growth and will continue following the positive overall trend for tourism in Jamaica,” Macouzet says.
Vacation ownership in Jamaica is increasingly a membership product that offers flexibility. “I see two types of new owners,” Macouzet says. “Young travelers seeking the Jamaican experience, and older travelers rediscovering Jamaica but in the higher-quality resorts.” Development and investment are booming, and while there will always be a niche for small boutique products, the larger resorts will have to combine high levels of service with increasing flexibility. Macouzet sees room for growth in Negril, in the western part of the island, and along Jamaica’s north coast. “Negril has a fantastic reputation with the least number of participating brands. Expect further growth also near Ocho Rios and the Rose Hall area, near Montego Bay,” Macouzet says. “In short, RCI subscribing members have a very good appetite for Jamaica.”
Image credit: Alamy