Travel to Jamaica is expanding even faster than the Jamaican Tourist Board (JTB) had expected. During a pre-Caribbean Week NYC (June 2-8) conversation, Donovan White, the recently appointed director of tourism, discussed this growth and more.

“In 2017 we had 4.4 million arrivals, 2.5 of whom were stopovers. For 2018 our target was 5 percent growth, but with projected arrivals of 4.8 million, we’re ahead of that pace,” said White. “Of the 2.5 million stopovers in 2017, 1.7 million were from North America,” he added, “and we have a return-visitor rate of 42 percent.”

Hotel product has grown, too, of course. For example, not only will Excellence Oyster Bay Resort in Trelawny open in June with about 350 rooms, but Excellence will then build another resort with 450 rooms. The S Hotel Montego Bay, an EP sister hotel of the Spanish Court in Kingston, will open this fall, and there’s more to come in MoBay. Meanwhile, back in Kingston, the new R (Renfrew) is well positioned for extended stays, and Marriott’s AC Hotel, a partnership with Sandals, will open in 2019.

The debut of these EP hotels might suggest that Jamaican tourism is moving away from all-inclusive hotels, but White said that this is not the point. He feels that the all-inclusive model is really just a method of payment, and what’s more important is that “the whole thought about all-inclusives has evolved. More of our visitors are coming for the experience of the destination and asking for a certain level of diversity.” So although they’re still paying in advance for a resort, the destination—Jamaica—matters more than ever.

White, the former vice president of Cable & Wireless Business Jamaica, also talked about technology. “We will soon launch a new online platform that will digitally integrate our website with big data, social media, and more, so we can better understand the traveling public’s needs. Wherever you are, whatever you want to know, will be embodied and constantly updated.”

Donovan White, director of tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board.

“Travel agents will be the greatest beneficiary of this,” he said. “Our CRM tools will be embedded for their use so the benefits of big data will be accessible to them. They will have access to this information and can use it for pitching destinations. Of course, we’ll make sure that we are in compliance with GDPR.”

JTB will begin to integrate these new capabilities in early July, “and by 60 days there will be substantial changes.” When asked if JTB will provide webinars for retail travel agents, White was quick to answer: “Yes! They will be the first group we take on a journey through the new space.”

For more information, visit jtbonline.org and visitjamaica.com.