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Winter tourists return in record numbers, but locals stay home

Tourists fled the cold to vacation in Jamaica in record numbers in December, while locals stayed home, according to new data on winter travel.

The colder-than-usual weather in the north led to flight cancellations affecting both locals and foreigners during the period. Overall, however, travellers still came in higher numbers.

“We are still ahead in terms of stopover arrivals to Jamaica by about 1.0 per cent, thereby managing to break the 2019 record. This is frankly impressive given the cancellations and issues with winter storms,” said Delano Seiveright, senior advisor in the Ministry of Tourism.

The winter storms impacted travel, especially from December 23 to 26, and led to 20 flight cancellations into Jamaica, amid thousands of cancellations in the United States and Canada. Southwest Airlines, for example, cancelled around 15,000 flights in the US during Christmas.

“It led travellers to miss connecting flights into Jamaica,” he said.

Seiveright added that Jamaicans travelled less, possibly due to travel conditions requiring COVID-19 testing.

“Remember a number of Jamaicans are not vaccinated and so they cannot travel to the US. That would cause some decline in the numbers from the Jamaican side of travel,” he said.

December 2022 delivered a record-breaking performance in stopover arrivals, with Jamaica Tourist Board preliminary data showing 253,630 visitors compared to some 251,540 in 2019.

But, on the local front, fewer people departed the island, which led to ‘terminal’ numbers falling at both major international airports, Sangster International in Montego Bay and Norman Manley International in Kingston. Data from Ian Flemming International Airport in Boscobel, St Mary were not immediately available.

Total terminal passengers is the combination of inbound and outbound traffic.

“We are still in recovery mode coming out of the pandemic and have been experiencing an increase in traffic compared to 2019 as at August to November, however winter storms would have impacted arrivals,” said Sharon Hislop Holt, manager of commercial business development at MBJ Airports Limited, operators of Sangster International.

Total passenger movement through Sangster, which is Jamaica’s main tourism gateway, dipped 2.7 per cent to 437,200 in the month from 449,400 in December 2019, according to the Pacific Airport Group, which controls Jamaica’s two largest international airport. But that’s after rising 10 per cent in October and eight per cent in November.

At Norman Manley, which handles a lot of business travellers, traffic fell eight per cent to 159,800 in December from 174,200 in 2019. Passenger traffic was also down one per cent in November.

The record tourist arrivals confirm Government’s expectation of record tourist arrivals for 2022. The number of tourists for the full year is projected to top four million and then rise to five million in 2023.

Meantime, the latest data from GAP indicate that the recovery of the travel market from COVID is still under way.

Preliminary data from the Mexico-based airport operators show 4.35 million total terminal passengers through Sangster for the 2022 calendar year, compared to 4.7 million in 2019.

Norman Manley traffic was estimated at 1.5 million for 2022. But GAP did not provide comparative data, having taken over the operations of the Kingston airport just before the pandemic hit. However, the airport’s Website puts passenger traffic in 2019 at 1.8 million.

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