Jamaica: The Streak Continues

With 10 straight Recommend’s Readers’ Choice Awards under its belt in the category of Best Selling Destination in the Caribbean, Jamaica has been the island’s tourism powerhouse for over a decade. “We’ve been at it longer [than other Caribbean islands],” says the Jamaica Tourist Board’s director of tourism, John Lynch. “Many years ago, the government decided that tourism is going to be a priority, and established a tourist board that brought in quite a lot of professionals in those early days. In the Caribbean, we were probably one of the earliest people to recognize this.” That early start not only put Jamaica ahead of its competition in the Caribbean, but also gave its people more time to adapt to the burgeoning tourist market, and eventually train to improve its offerings to vacationers.

“Selling a good product has helped us,” Lynch explains. Today, he says, “There is a passion in the people for tourism, and that makes a difference.”

That expertise and passion helped Jamaica to weather the economic crisis of the past year. Lynch explains that, even before the recession, the tourist board’s primary goal was to add the number of flights to the island throughout the crisis. “Two years ago, we started to work closely with our airlines, because the Caribbean is a destination that you can’t swim to or drive to—you have to fly. So in the last couple of years, we’ve formed a close relationship with our airline partners, and it’s worked. We’ve made our airline very accessible.” That accessibility sustained the island through the economic crisis, ensuring that agents could still offer their clients relatively low rates to Jamaica, even as airlines cut back on flights and raised fares to other destinations.

And when vacationers are on the ground in Jamaica, they find plenty of value for the dollar. “We have a good bunch of hoteliers in Jamaica,” Lynch asserts. “Jamaica has increased its room stock over the past four to five years. New room stock—fresh room stock—in today’s world, that’s what the customer wants. I always say, people buy a first world vacation, not a third world experience. They want a modern room. They want good service. So the product has helped us tremendously.” Lynch points to fellow Readers’ Choice Awards winners Sandals, which took home five awards this year—including Best Resort/Hotel Chain in the Caribbean (you can read more on Sandals’ wins on page 8)—and Beaches Resorts, which won for the third time in a row for Best Resort/Hotel Chain for Families. According to Kevin Froemming, president and CEO of Unique Vacations, Inc., those awards are another sign that the product in Jamaica bests all others. “It’s a recognition that we’re delivering value, as customers are looking at it,” he explains. “It’s the services they get, the attention to detail.”

Particularly when it comes to catering to children. Froemming stresses that the company’s constant evolution and upgrades to products like Beaches helps to keep the resorts on trend with kids’ constantly shifting wants and needs. “Beaches Resorts is as adamant about innovation as kids are fickle about their ever-changing likes and dislikes. With this in mind, Beaches Resorts has forged partnerships with some of the most recognizable and trusted brands in the world, including Sesame Workshop, Crayola and Xbox 360,” he explains. Planned activities like Beaches Resorts Caribbean Adventure with Sesame Street keep the little ones entertained, while older kids enjoy “brand-new tween and teen programming with activities and places just for them, including Liquid, an all-teen disco; Xbox 360 Game Garage with the trendiest games; Scratch DJ, featuring DJ lessons from the famed Scratch DJ Academy,” and more, Froemming continues. Even the spas at Beaches are family-oriented, with treatments designed specifically for younger spa-goers.

all about agents Airlift and product are two of the most important elements of Jamaica’s success, Lynch says—but it’s all for nothing without travel agents. “Travel agents are a very important part of our mix,” he explains. “If you can get a motivated travel agent, it’s your best salesperson. So we work with the travel trade, we’ve done a lot of educational trips…we’ve shown them that we have a good cross-section of product. Travel agents have worked with us hand-in-hand to really make this destination something.”