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Tourism travel surpasses 4m in 2023, beating expectation

Some 4.17 million visitors flocked Jamaica in 2023, which pushed the number of arrivals by plane and cruise ship to record levels, according to Ministry of Tourism estimates and new airport data.

The arrivals are up some 17 per cent year on year, said Delano Seiveright, senior government strategist in the tourism ministry, regarding stopover visitors who flew into Jamaica by plane. That is 2.9 million stopover plane arrivals and an additional 1.265 million persons who came on cruise ships.

The numbers are preliminary and subject to change, but it is still a solid performance for the sector.

The figures beat September projections by the Ministry of Tourism for 3.88 million stopover and cruise passengers.

Data from both major international airports, however, suggests that arrivals by plane alone could surpass the three-million mark. That is due to total international terminal passengers surpassing the 6.96 million mark. International terminal passenger numbers are a summation of arrivals and departures. The airport statistics do not break down the numbers, but arrivals would generally equate to roughly half the total figure since an international passenger is expected to depart within a short period.

When asked to comment on those precise numbers, Seiveright said the ministry was still “tabulating” the data.

Regarding air travel, the volumes of passenger traffic generally flow through Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay and Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston, both of which are owned and operated under concession by Pacific Airport Group of Mexico. Sangster is the main gateway for tourist traffic.

Driving the growth in tourism are the new hotel rooms that support the vacation packages that woo visitors from source nations led by the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Over the next five years, new projects in the pipeline or under execution are projected to grow the stock of hotel rooms by two-thirds, from 31,000 rooms to 50,000 rooms.

The number of international terminal passengers for Sangster International grew 20 per cent to 5.2 million in 2023 and by 12 per cent to 1.75 million at Norman Manley. The trend shows that arrivals through Kingston have been on the decline since September, including the month of December, which recorded down 2.5 per cent less passenger traffic when compared to year earlier levels.

The airport in Montego Bay is the main gateway for tourists while Kingston mainly caters to locals and corporate visitors staying in business hotels or short-term rental units.

For 2024, the Ministry of Tourism is also projecting another year of more than four million tourist visitors. Speaking with the government’s news agency, JIS, Director of Tourism Donovan White said in September that the target is 4.59 million visitors this year, which should bring in US$4.3 billion in earnings.

Achieving that outturn would take the ministry closer to its goal of five million visitors per annum and US$5 billion in tourism flows for Jamaica.

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