Sections of the tourism industry are upbeat about the winter tourism season which effectively starts tomorrow. That in spite of a travel advisory issued by the United States Government to its citizens, regarding the pollution of beaches on the islands north coast, and general elections on Thursday.
Hotel occupancy levels tend to rise later in the month and peak by February. Director of Tourism, Fay Pickersgill, has said visitor arrivals figures are up just over two per cent to the end of October and director of cruise shipping, Allan Gotting, says the outlook for cruise visitors is still good, with at least five new ships having come to Jamaican ports in the last two months and more than 700,000 visitors having come on cruise ships so far this year.
“The season looks good,” said Joe Issa, senior vice president of SuperClubs and president of the St. Ann Chamber of Commerce. “Overall, suppliers are reporting 20 per cent up on business last year,” said Mr. Issa who, in the last two weeks, has been in touch with all major suppliers to Jamaica.
He said the SuperClubs group of hotels was also positive in its outlook and its outlook and its business was up too.
The general manager of the 700-room Jamaica Grande hotel, the country’s largest hotel and convention centre in Ocho Rios, Marc Redt, told Dollars and Sense that his hotel is yet to receive any negative feedback as a result of the warning by the US Government about the state of beaches in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. But he noted that US report could affect his hotel if the American media decide to cover the issue extensively
“If the US media get a hold of it, I think it could harm us badly because they can blow up things,” suggested Mr. Redt.
He said the Jamaica Grande had a 50 per cent occupancy level but said this was normal just before the beginning of the winter season. The Jamaica Grande managing director also expected more guests to fill the over 900-room hotel by next weekend.
The owner of the Round Hill hotel in Hanover and first vice president of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA). Josef Forstmayr, told the Sunday Herald that any warning from the US Government about water pollution in Jamaica was dangerous. Mr. Forstmayr said although American tourists do not ask about the state of the beaches in Jamaica, he said they were bound to get the bad reports from their European or Japanese counterparts who showed a greater interest in environmental issues. He said he had not heard any negative response from his colleagues in connection with the US report and noted his hotel was enjoying over 80 per cent occupancy level.
Francis Tulloch who was minister of tourism for eight months before Parliament was dissolved last month, said reports reaching his ears suggested that large hotels would have a good winter season, but smaller ones might not have that success. Reacting to the US Travel Advisory, Mr. Tulloch said he was not too worried about the American report because water pollution was not unique to Jamaica. He said plans were in place to relocate squatters who lived in the vicinity of the North Gully and the Railway lane in Montego Bay and placed them at lands, possibly at Retirement and Providence Heights, in St. James. The former tourism minister also said plans were in place to place red flags at beaches where pollution was above the required standards.
In its annual consular information sheet formerly known as the US Travel Advisory, issued on November 21, the US Government said after heavy rains, pollutant levels at the Walter Fletcher Beach in Montego Bay and Turtle Beach and Sailors Hole Beach in Ocho Rios can exceed US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) water quality standards. The US report listed the 1996 survey conducted by the Natural Resources Conservation Authority (NRCA) as its source of information.
The consular information sheet is available to US citizens through the website on the internet. This was the first time that warning about Jamaica’s beaches was included in the US report.