Bad weather hits bookings
“We are feeling good about the winter tourist season.”
Those words didn’t come from Richard Sealy, Barbados’ Minister of Tourism, or any official in the Barbados Tourism Authority but they were voiced by Sandra Scott, the Jamaica Tourist Board’s Deputy Director of Tourism, Marketing. She was reflecting on the performance of an industry that is as vital to her country’s economic well-being as it is to Barbados’.
She made the comment in New York on a day when the City was still reeling from the effects of a major snowstorm and people were trying to cope with the deep freeze-type conditions that forced many New Yorkers to bundle up, stay indoors as long as they could without hitting the streets in several layers of clothing that ward off the terrible effects of bitingly cold winds.
But while New Yorkers were shivering since January, hoteliers in the Caribbean had their hopes soaring, dreaming of a bumper season. After all, in the past cold, bad weather forced North Americans to flee to warmer climes in droves.
If what’s happening in Jamaica is a guide to the performance picture elsewhere in the region, then things may not be turning out as robust as many had expected. Good yes, and better than last year, also true. But no, the bumper results many expected may not be on the cards.
“Although the official figures for January aren’t available, we are doing better than last year, perhaps by three or five per cent over the previous year’s arrivals,” Scott told BARBADOS BUSINESS AUTHORITY.
“We are seeing more tourists from North America coming to the country. The tourism product is fresh. We have new products [hotels] coming on board and renovated ones as well. The hotel sector is doing very well. The Ritz Carlton which closed last year is being refurbished and will be ready for the coming winter season. Other hotels have been refurbished and that makes us very happy.”
Scott, who has almost a quarter of a century of experience in the hospitality and tourism marketing areas in Jamaica and Canada, said that the European market was also “doing very, very well for us”, with the Russian Federation showing strong growth as a source market for visitors to the country.
“Russia is up by 600-700 per cent year over year,” Scott explained. “We do have a flight from Russia to Jamaica that enables travellers to spend ten days. They are not ‘beach’ people but they want to see the culture. If they are staying in Montego Bay they would undertake a tour of Kingston with the Bob Marley Museum a prime attraction. They are also shoppers. The bottom line is that Europe is doing very well for us.”
But industry executives and others who were expecting the unusually cold spells across the United States and Canada to encourage large numbers of Americans and Canadians to leave their homes and seek comfort and excitement in warm weather destinations like Jamaica and its Caribbean neighbours may be in for a disappointment.
“A lot of people thought because of the bad weather in North America we would have a bumper winter tourist season [in Jamaica] but because of the nature of the weather, the snowstorms and so on, we have had a lot of flight cancellations to Jamaica as a result,” Scott said.
“We have found that a lot of travellers are not leaving their homes for several reasons. For instance, some don’t want to leave their homes unattended. They are concerned about frozen and busted pipes, snow piling up on the sidewalks and so on. But we are up over last year but so far I wouldn’t say it is a bumper season because of the bad weather. We have an increase in visitors in January over last year.”