Travel Scene: How about Jamaica, mon?
Tourism worldwide has been down for several years — thanks to the global economic doldrums — but one bright spot has been tourism in the Caribbean, particularly in Jamaica, which is banking heavily on all-inclusive resorts.
In the Caribbean, 23 million tourists visited the region in 2010, a nearly 3 percent increase from the 22.1 million who visited the previous year, according to the Caribbean Tourism Organization. The sun and sand that the islands offer — particularly attractive during winter in this region — has drawn hordes and hordes of visitors from the U.S. and Canada, as well as increasing numbers of European tourists.
Most Internet travel booking sites, as well as travel agents, explain that a good share of the increasing number of visitors to the region can be laid to the growing popularity of all-inclusive resorts. And Jamaica, where the concept was introduced by the Sandals chain some years ago, has become the leader in that regard.
Additionally, that type of accommodation now has spread to most of the other islands across the Caribbean.
Resorts on the rise
Jamaica now boasts about 30 of these resorts — primarily in the luxurious 4- or 5-star category — that virtually encircle the island. And more are being constructed each year, often by foreign chains.
Many of them focus on a particular share of the market, like the family-trade, couples-only or even the "swinging singles" properties springing up in recent years.
The concept of the all-inclusive resort is almost self-explanatory. Simply put, it is a resort that includes all of your meals — often including 24-hour room service — all of your drinks and daily and nightly entertainment. Some of them also offer reservation-only, higher-end restaurants that come with an additional price tag.
Most of the properties occupy prime beachfront locations and are several hundred units in size. There are a few smaller ones, however.
Twenty years ago, when the concept started in the Caribbean — it since has taken over many Mexican locations now — the all-inclusives were mainly designed for couples only. Sandals then launched the Beaches brand to tap the family market, while SuperClubs has the Hedonism resorts with an atmosphere that borders on X-rated; it also offers family-oriented Beezes and Starfish hotels.
Most Club Meds, which pioneered the all-inclusive concept on a worldwide basis, have shifted to a family friendly ambiance where parents can join their kids in trapeze classes, as an example. Many of the resorts now offer almost Disney-like facilities. In one property, a waterpark has grown to 10 times its original size, with nine water slides and a surf simulator that replicates white water and surf conditions.
The success of the all-inclusives has drawn the attention of several hotel-only chains. The Ritz-Carlton, for one, has created a luxury package at some of its Caribbean properties that includes room, meals, drinks, tax and gratuities.
Jamaica offers much to do
Our stays in Jamaica — and we have headquartered at five properties in the last 10 years or so — have all been on the north side of the island, near Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. We've had other enjoyable stays at Mexican properties bordering on the Caribbean, just south of Cancun.
Our last visit to Jamaica a few weeks ago was to the Jewel's Dunn River Resort near Ocho Rios. It formerly was a Sandals property that was refurbished last fall.
Jamaica has a host of activities available to visitors, outside of the sunny beaches. One prime attraction is Dunn's River Falls, a cascading waterfall that is popular with all ages. The country's golf properties are numerous and world-class.
Also, shopping can be fun, especially bargaining with the locals, but be on guard — there are areas of petty crime, and prepare for harassment from street merchants, mostly on the southern side of the island. It's wise to take group tours that your vacation property offers.
Jamaica's economy depends largely on tourism — it's a $4 billion a year industry representing 20 percent of the country's gross national product. Some 2 million visitors are logged yearly — and cruise ship passengers are becoming a more important segment of Jamaica's tourism. Two-thirds of Jamaica's visitors are from the United States.