Since 1955, the Jamaica Tourist Board has operated as the go-to reference point for anyone interested in visiting these Caribbean shores. We catch up with Director of Tourism, Donovan G. White, for some valuable insight into the destination today.
Q&A WITH DONOVAN G. WHITE, DIRECTOR OF TOURISM, JAMAICA TOURISM BOARD
Can you talk me through the origins of the Jamaica Tourist Board and its initial vision?
Donovan G. White, Director of Tourism (DW): Jamaica was attracting a large share of visitors with the existence of lodging houses and a few inns, but the real spur for development was the Jamaica International Exhibition planned for 1891. This resulted in the formation of the Jamaica Tourist Association in 1910 whose primary purpose was “to enhance the claims of the colony as a health and pleasure resort at home and abroad and to give ‘reliable’ information to both prospective visitors and those already holidaying on the island”. In 1922, the government started its direct intervention in the promotion of the industry and enacted laws which saw the establishment of the Tourist Trade Development Board.
By the early 1950s, it became evident that the island needed much more effective organisation with a greater scope of responsibility and operation, so in 1954, the Tourist Trade Development Board was abolished and the Jamaica Tourist Board was created, governed by the Tourist Board Act.
The Jamaica Tourist Board came into being on 1st April 1955. Our mission is to market the tourism product so that Jamaica remains the premier Caribbean tourism destination. We position Jamaica as the most complete, unique and diverse warm weather destination in the world, which offers the best vacation value available. Through creative programmes and advertisements worldwide, we market the uniqueness of the destination. We are the most preferred point of contact for anyone travelling to Jamaica.
What are your organisation’s current goals?
DW: Our main focus is our new global “Come Back” advertising campaign. The ethos behind it is that we are inviting the world to come back to feeling their best selves again in Jamaica. Not only is travelling known to be good for our mental health and physical well-being, but travelling in Jamaica is particularly good for the spirit. Jamaica has a way of opening people up to new experiences that feed their natural curiosity, helping them rediscover their sense of adventure and to connect with people on the most human level.
The expansion and diversification of our source markets have strategically included India, Japan, countries in continental Europe and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Post-pandemic, our focus resumed on this activity through our participation in the World Expo and the inaugural appearance at the Arabian Travel Market, to forge new partnership arrangements. We will continue to participate through 2023 and going forward as a commitment to our continuation of new market development and diversification of our tourism penetration globally. We remain committed to our ongoing discussions with partners in Latin America to achieve a substantial airlift out of that region.
How does Jamaica cater to sustainable and eco-friendly travel experiences?
DW: We are the land of wood and water, and a great percentage of our attractions are eco-friendly. Jamaica has over 100 rivers and waterfalls with a generous amount of rainfall. The Blue and John Crow Mountains National Park, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, remains one of Jamaica’s most enduring and beguiling eco-attractions. Properties have also incorporated sustainable and eco-friendly practices into their operations with recognition and certification from international organisations.
What other trends are currently reshaping tourism in Jamaica?
DW: There is a marked increase in curated trips to meet the demand for exclusive experiences on the island. While our all-inclusive offerings are still in high demand, there is a noticeable interest in villa stays which highlights Jamaica’s sought-after offering in this niche for high-end clients. Community tourism is thriving more than in the past, with discerning travellers wanting to immerse themselves in the lifestyle of community members.
Similarly, what kind of travellers does Jamaica appeal to most?
DW: Jamaica appeals to a wide cross section of travellers. The island has always been the destination that has helped visitors live out their bucket list – from families, singles, honeymooners, girlfriend groups, event lovers and more. Our market segments have always included experience seekers – a younger target audience who love to explore the island and discover romance and adventure while making a connection to the local culture. Family planners are another key demographic in attracting young families looking to experience their long-anticipated family vacation. And finally, we have always appealed to seasoned travellers whose experiences have unlocked their appetite for adventure, their curiosity about the local culture, and their lasting love for each other.
Name one overlooked spot on the island that you would recommend for a first-time visitor to Jamaica.
DW: Kingston Creative Artwalk in Downtown Kingston. Our capital city was designated by UNESCO as a Creative City of Music. The creative Artwalk is such a fitting experience since it is a space that is rich with our artistic expressions. The experience takes people on a colourful journey depicting Jamaica’s culture. Kingston Creative has partnered with artists, artisans, and community-based organisations to develop Artwalks in four communities in Downtown Kingston, celebrating each neighbourhood’s vibrant culture. Each work of art is born from a story that is memorable. It is a beautiful place for photoshoots, but a guided tour is the best way to understand the stories behind the artistry.
Finally, how do you see tourism developing on the island in the years ahead? Are you optimistic that tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels?
DW: We have grown exponentially since the days when we were known mostly for sand, sea and sun, with additional airlift and the expansion of gateways. Both Sangster International and the Norman Manley International Airports are expanding and building capacity. Meanwhile, investments from international hotel brands are adding to our room stock and enhancing diversity in our offerings. We are very optimistic about our industry as we have surpassed our recovery projections and are now on a path of growth.
We are always improving our product to remain relevant and competitive. Our road network continues to get upgrades, allowing for greater and easier access to the heart and soul of our tourism product, which is our people.
St Thomas in the east of the island is set for major development which will see it become a major tourism destination with many sights and sounds to experience. This will be an excellent addition to our tourism portfolio. We have built a formidable sector which was tested by the COVID-19 pandemic, and we are proud to be one of the fastest-recovering destinations in the world.