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Air travel to Kingston dips at the start of fall

Air travel to Jamaica slowed last month, with the airport in Kingston registering its first decline for the year.

On the ground, that translated to a soft September for the tourism market, according to hotelier Christopher Issa who owns hotels in the main cities of Kingston, a gateway for business travel through Norman Manley International Airport, and Montego Bay through which the majority of tourist traffic flows via Sangster International Airport.

“September was slower for Kingston than in Montego Bay,” said Issa, the owner and CEO of Spanish Court Hotel in Kingston and S Hotel Jamaica in Montego Bay.

Issa said Kingston experienced one-off “weather systems” that could have negatively affected travel. The outlook for his hotels remains positive, with vacationers destined for Montego Bay making plans farther in advance than travellers destined for Kingston.

In September, some 132,000 travellers transited through Norman Manley International, which was about 5,000 fewer than in 2022 – reflecting a dip of 3.5 per cent. However, total passenger movement was up 19 per cent overall year-to-date. Prior to September, the slowest growth recorded in Kingston was 3.0 per cent in July.

At Sangster International, the passenger count increased 8.0 per cent in the month of September to 324,100, while year to date, the flow of travellers was up by 23 per cent. For Montego Bay, September was the worst performing month for 2023, followed by May when passenger flows increased by 10 per cent.

Kingston traffic usually softens in September and October, said Delano Seiveright, senior communications strategist in the Ministry of Tourism. He still expects a strong winter tourist season but wants to examine the causes of the fall in Kingston.

“It could be that the airlines reduced the number of services that they operate for September and October for Kingston given the falloff. However, in Montego Bay we are seeing an uptick in flights and seats more than ever,” said Seiveright.

There are 906,000 available seats from the United States from September to December. The seat capacity is larger than the previous and supported by carriers adding more seats to Montego Bay, including WestJet, Southwest, United Air, and American Airlines, Seiveright said. Additionally, Delta Airlines may add more flights from Atlanta, he added.

Airfares are relatively high, but overall September is the lightest month for travel for the Jamaican diaspora. The only period that’s strong in that month is the first week when persons are returning home from summer trips, the tourism official said.

Other factors that could be at play include the number of seats coming into Kingston which would have impacted travel.

“It is still too early to give a definitive assessment because we have to do deeper analysis to find out the exact reasons,” said Seiveright.

In regard to pricing, landlords offering short-term rentals reduced their rates by 13 per cent year on year to $37,500 a night on average; while landlords in Kingston inched rates higher by 7.0 per cent to $15,200, according to online provider AirDNA which scrapes data from short-term rental sites. Despite the price fluctuations, both cities had a 12 per cent rise in occupancy. Landlords in Montego Bay are now booked out a little more than half of the time, and Kingston a little less than half the time.

The latest tourism data shows that from January to August, Jamaica recorded 2.77 million visitors and earned US$2.93 billion in revenue.

Jamaica is targeting 3.8 million visitors and US$4.1 million in revenue for the 2023 calendar year, Seiveright noted.

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