Tourism director upbeat with addition of 450,000 more airline seats

Director of Tourism Donovan Whyte says the commitment by American carriers over the last two weeks to increase the number of seats to Jamaica by 450,000 over the winter season is a strong manifestation of the confidence felt by international tourism partners in the destination.

“…If that isn’t an indication of confidence, I am not sure what is,” said Whyte.”There is tremendous confidence in Jamaica in the marketplace,” he added.

“I have learnt in this business that airlines don’t put seats where they make no money or they don’t put seats where they don’t see demand. And so I want to leave you with the confidence of knowing that our partners have not left us. We have to continue to drive the process forward. We have to continue to do the right things — to continue to invest, to continue to train, to continue to ensure that we are encouraging our tourism family to continue to support what we do.”

The tourism director, who was speaking at a cocktail reception ceremony hosted by executives of the reopened Riu Montego Bay on Saturday evening, said the 450,000 increase in airline seats over the last two weeks has ramped up the tally of seats for the winter season to 1.1 million, which he said is about 60 per cent of last year’s winter season. “We are still below where we were, but we are significantly up on where we were for the fall, which is the period that just ended,” Whyte noted.

He said he is heartened by the consistently growing demand for the destination in the global market, especially from places such as Europe and Latin America which are now recovering from the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

But he said it is going take a continuous effort on Jamaica’s part to continue to stimulate demand in the marketplace, “and so we have to be active, we have to be consistent, and we have to be true to our authenticity – and that’s what we are about and that’s what we are going to continue to do”.

Riu Montego Bay, which was opened in 2008 as a family resort, was closed in April of this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The company used the closure to undertake renovations and the addition of 145 more rooms, bringing the room count at the facility to 826.

“One of new features is the water park, the first in a Riu property in Jamaica that adults only will have,” said Niurka Garcia Linton, director of sales, Riu Hotels Resorts, Jamaica.

Whyte lauded Riu for its continued investment in Jamaica, especially during the challenging period of coronavirus pandemic.

“When an industry has effectively been closed since March and was down to ground zero in terms of no flights coming for the better part of three months, and to have a partner who is continually looking to improve its product so that when visitors come back they have a better experience is a phenomenal thing — and we want to applaud Riu for that,” Whyte said.

“We want to thank other partners for doing the same. We are here tonight and we are happy to learn that they have not only refurbished but they have added 145 rooms. That is interesting and very important for our industry to grow and expand our room stock, because that is part of the product that we offer to the world.”

Deputy mayor of Montego Bay, Councillor Richard Vernon also lauded the Spanish hotel chain for its confidence in Jamaica.

“I must commend the management of Riu Montego Bay for the quick turnaround of this operation — from closure to gutting, to refurbishing — and today [Saturday], reopening. Today’s return of Riu Montego Bay is a refreshing feeling and great change from March of this year when COVID-19 entered our shores and literally closed down the tourism sector. I reckon it has been sheer determination and proper management to have reached today’s milestone. Importantly, we are happy that our treasured guests can return to their playground and our invaluable employees can return to work,” Councillor Vernon said.

Custos of St James Bishop Conrad Pitkin also commended Riu.

“The reopening of this hotel, I believe, is a strong statement on Brand Jamaica…and as custos of the parish I wholeheartedly welcome this reopening,” he said.

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