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Travel surge into Kingston - Visitors stuff hotels, Airbnbs; Buju ticket sales soar

Published:Saturday | March 16, 2019 | 12:00 AMDave Rodney/Gleaner Writer

Jamaica’s former ambassador to the United States, Dr Richard Bernal, was frantically trying to get on a flight from Washington, DC, to Kingston this week, but the normally simple task proved difficult. He was forced to push back his travel by a few days as all flights into the Jamaican capital are sold out this week from the mid-Atlantic region of the United States.

A similar plight exists at other North American gateways to find air, premium accommodations, and car rentals in Kingston for the next two weeks. Even single-bed Airbnb accommodations that list for as low as US$8 per night in central Kingston, an area usually shunned by tourists, are under pressure to satisfy the demand for rooms. With the surge in tourism business in Kingston, industry executives couldn’t be happier.

Recent warnings against Jamaica’s capital have so far not halted the pilgrimage to what some view as paradise, and the boom in stopover arrivals appears to be an emerging sustainable trend rather than a two-week flash mob performance, based on Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) statistics.

February 2019 figures are not in yet, but stopover arrivals for this January show an 11.4 per cent increase over the similar period last year with more than 18,000 stopover arrivals for the month. Visitors to Kingston were staying twice as long on average than those visiting Montego Bay. Kingston boasted an average stay of 15.2 nights in January, while Montego Bay experienced seven nights. Figures for February, and especially March, are expected to be strong as well, based on preliminary indicators from the JTB.

“Kingston is doing great, and our hoteliers are happy,” Chris Jarrett, chairman of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Kingston Chapter, and CEO of Altamont Hotels, told The Gleaner. “Crime is down, and business confidence is up, and there is a lot of construction taking place that generates an overall improvement in the economy, including at the grass-roots level,” he added.

Business confidence up

Jarrett pointed out that the latest Jamaica Chamber of Commerce survey indicates that business confidence was up, and this has triggered an increase in business and leisure travel to Kingston, with a large chunk coming from Jamaicans overseas.

And for March, there are a number of city events that are accelerating the arrivals needle. These include the Coffee Festival, the Rum Festival, ISSA Boys & Girls’ Athletics Championship, the Buju Banton concert, the Kingston City Marathon, and the Venus Invitational Volleyball Tournament.

Dale Getfield, the proprietor of People’s Choice Furniture, a popular retail outlet in Bronx, New York, said that over the past few weeks, he sold more than US$70,000 worth of tickets for the Buju Banton concert.

“I have never seen this level of sales before for a Jamaica event. Tickets were US$75, US$100, and US$200, and they were all quickly gobbled up,” he rejoiced.

Car-rental companies at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston also revealed unusually brisk business, with most companies fully booked for the month of March.

“There is a lot of event activity currently taking place in Kingston,” Donnie Dawson, deputy director of tourism for the Americas, affirmed in an interview. “Some of our visitors are returning residents from the diaspora. The US economy is strong right now, providing more disposable income for travellers. Also, some of the stigma attached to Kingston with crime has gone away, making the city more appealing for visitors. And new hotels are opening later this year,” he continued.

“Kingston is undergoing a long-anticipated arts and culture renaissance,” Margaret Reckord Bernal, cultural heritage specialist, remarked. “Whether it’s the downtown arts walks, the excitement of food and entertainment on the waterfront, lively ongoing community events by citizens of Trench Town, Liberty Hall or Fleet Street, Kingston is coming into its true role as a world-class cultural capital city. Just wait until the Ward Theatre reopens!” Bernal projected with confidence.