Japan Today
Montego Bay in Jamaica Image: Kathryn Wortley

Jamaica hoping to lure more Japanese travelers

By Kathryn Wortley

With 2024 marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and Jamaica, the third-largest island nation in the Caribbean is hoping the special anniversary stimulates the arrival of greater numbers of Japanese travelers.

For decades, Jamaica has been a long-haul destination of choice for Japanese eager to experience the country’s pristine beaches, natural environment, gourmet coffee, fine rum and reggae music.

The embassy of Jamaica in Tokyo estimates that more than 100,000 Japanese have visited Jamaica in the past 15 years, largely for sightseeing, golf, tennis, diving, shopping, reggae concerts and studying English.

Resort hotel at Trelawney Image: Kathryn Wortley

Now, Jamaica’s Ministry of Tourism is keen for expansion of the Japanese market as air connectivity improves and an investment boom valued at U.S.$5 billion is set to increase hotel room count by 15,000 to 20,000 over the next five to 10 years.

Jamaica is easier to visit than before the pandemic thanks to a 2019 aviation agreement between the United States and Japan to allow increased flight services between the two countries, therefore improving connections to Jamaica.

When appealing to the Japanese market, “it’s always the challenge of connectivity that is the hardest, but we do have routes connecting to Jamaica over the United States, which is the most connected set of gateways around the world,” Donovan White, Jamaica’s director of tourism, said at the Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2024, in late May.

Speaking in host city Montego Bay, Jamaica, White said most Japanese visitors arrive via Miami and New York, but the market has also recently expressed interest in traveling through London’s Heathrow Airport.

But while Japanese travelers to Jamaica are on the increase, Japan is unlikely to ever become a key feeder market like the United States (the source of more than half of total arrivals), Canada and the United Kingdom, according to travel trend and insights provider ForwardKeys.

“Jamaica is gaining popularity but it remains niche for the Japanese market,” said Olivier Ponti, the company’s director of intelligence & marketing.

Room for growth

Jamaica’s tourism industry has enjoyed an unprecedented surge post-pandemic, with gross earnings up 9% year-on-year during fiscal year 2023-2024 and a record two million visitors over January to May 2024, according to the Jamaica Tourist Board. Comparatively, calendar year 2019 saw 4.2 million visitors, making it likely 2024 will be a bumper year for arrivals.

With interest rising, Japan representatives were among the estimated 1,000 delegates attending the Caribbean Hotel & Tourism Association’s annual flagship event designed to facilitate greater travel to and within the Caribbean region. Over three days, the Caribbean Travel Marketplace 2024 also attracted representatives from 26 Caribbean countries, 178 supplier companies and 101 buyer companies.

Attendees were introduced not only to Montego Bay — located on Jamaica’s north shore and home to beautiful beaches, luxury resort hotels and Rose Hall, one of the country’s most impressive pieces of 18th century Jamaican Georgian architecture — but also to what other parts of the country have to offer.

Montego Bay is one of six resort areas: Kingston, the capital and home of reggae; Negril, famed for its casual vibe and seven-mile stretch of white sand; Ocho Rios, renowned as a center for adventure and water sports; arts and crafts hub Port Antonio; and the sleepy, rural South Coast.

Treasure Beach Image: Kathryn Wortley

A trip to Saint Elizabeth, located at the mouth of the Black River on the South Coast, revealed Treasure Beach, a quiet spot made up of four coves and their associated villages, and Floyd’s Pelican Bar, whose offshore location (only accessible by boat) affords scenic sunset views.

Nearby, in Saint Eizabeth’s lush Nassau Valley, lies the Appleton Rum Estate, the oldest rum distillery in the country and home to one of the tours marketed to Japanese customers of Caribbean cruises. Visitors can learn about the historic production methods of this 250-year old rum, including how juice was once extracted from sugarcane, and try samples.

Other food and drink tours expected to appeal to Japanese visitors include those involving the island’s Blue Mountain Coffee, renowned for its high quality due to the optimum altitude, climate and forest cover in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains.

More than 70% of this famed coffee is exported to Japan annually. Indeed, such is its popularity that Japanese consumers mark Jamaica Blue Mountain Coffee Day on January 9 every year. In 2024, the occasion coincided with the 70th year of direct shipment of the coffee to Japan, according to the Jamaica Coffee Exporters Association.

At Craighton Estate, Kingston, owned by Tokyo-based Ueshima Coffee Company, visitors can experience a tour featuring a walk around the working coffee farm and historic great house, as well as a Blue Mountain Coffee tasting.

Jamaica’s position as the home of reggae is also expected to be an increasingly important draw. The unique form of music has had a dedicated following in Japan since the first visit of leading reggae artist Bob Marley in 1979. Today, there are thought to be some 300 reggae groups and sound systems in Japan, as well as a growing number of events and festivals nationwide celebrating reggae music and Jamaican culture.

Such a diverse package of attractions will continue to appeal to Japanese travelers, according to the Jamaica Tourist Board.

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, left, and Donovan White, Jamaica’s director of tourism Image: Kathryn Wortley

“We are seeing a pent-up demand for travel and will be capitalizing on this with some of our known and beloved assets, like our Blue Mountain coffee, diverse culinary offerings and infectious reggae,” board director White told attendees at Tourism Expo Japan in September 2022 following the announcement of Japan’s complete relaxation of Covid-induced border restrictions.

“Japan represents a key market for reengagement given the country’s outbound travel of over 20 million in 2019 and the strong cultural and diplomatic connections with Jamaica,” Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett said at the time, adding “now is the time to innovate and attract Japanese visitors with our authentic Jamaican experiences.”

Indeed, Jamaica has been deepening efforts to attract the Japanese market since September 2022, including via a Jamaica Tourist Board-hosted familiarization trip for Japanese travel agents in 2023, aimed at allowing for better selling and packaging of the destination for vacation seekers.

So far, those efforts seem to be paying off.

“Younger middle class professionals are traveling more [to Jamaica] from the Japanese market; that’s the interest we’re seeing and it’s the interest we continue to attract,” said White.

© Japan Today

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Why would I want to spend a day traveling to Jamaica when I can spend only 6 hours on a plane to Vietnam,Thailand,Indonesia etc?

I would not..

-5 ( +3 / -8 )

Apart from the rum, reggae and culture, most of those attributes mentioned in the article can be foound at destinations far closer to Japan than Jamaica.

Plus. Who would choose Jamaica as a destination to learn English?

0 ( +3 / -3 )

It's a pity that the yen is so weak that such long flights are no longer economically viable.

Jamaica is such an interesting island.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Have talked with a lot of people who really liked their time in the Caribbean. As for us, the only time we have experienced it was when we were traveling through. The thing that immediately struck us was the overwhelming humidity, even in April. The western coast of Mexico is much closer for us, and for six months of the year, December to May, the weather is fantastic.

I asked an in-law about their experiences in Jamaica. He said that other than for the resorts, he did not like it. Outside of the resorts they were accosted by locals to buy things, and they had to be concerned about their safety as well. He does not recommend it, other than for the resorts. I suspect most visitors limit themselves to the resorts and day time tourist areas.

The commenter who questioned going to Jamaica to learn English has a valid point. The Caribbean patois is attractive, but is that what one wants to learn? The idea of a Japanese person speaking with a Jamaican style gives me a smile.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Jamaica. One of the most beautiful country from the Caraibe. Not only for the scenery, but also the people.

Too bad the flight tickets prices exploded due to Yen crash and hyperinflation.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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