Sixty top-tier travel specialists were recognised Saturday night for pumping J$9.3 billion into Jamaica’s tourism and other industries this year.
The agents, 98 per cent of them based in the United States and Canada, with one outstanding Jamaican in the mix, sold 174,000 room nights (60,000 tourists) over 12 months, securing the island’s spot as one of the most-sought-after destinations in the Caribbean.
Tropics Travel’s Lindsay Johnson, out of Kentucky in the USA, sold 20,000 room nights, walking away with the coveted top-producer plaque.
Dave Chin Tung of Go Jamaica Travel was the only Jamaican travel agent to make it among the 60, copping a second award for being in the top 10.
Approximately 47,000 travel agents have been trained by the Jamaica Tourist Board as Jamaican travel specialists in the last 11 years. If deputy director of tourism for the Americas, Donnie Dawson, has his way, the numbers will move to 100,000.
“We expanded the programme to Latin America. It is now in Spanish, we are putting it in Portuguese. We have launched it in Mexico and are going to Chile and Argentina and Peru,” Dawson told The Gleaner during the One Love Gala at the Secrets Resort.
“Our goal is to increase over the next five years to 100,000 travel agents,” he added.
The star performer of the evening, Johnson, who has hundreds of repeat clients, said that Jamaica was not a hard-sell destination.
She described the country as having unique appeal.
“I have so many clients who go to Jamaica two, three times a year and just love it. When you guys say ‘Welcome home,’ it really is their second home,” she said.
A trained chemical engineer who opted to take on travel full-time 11 years ago, Johnson said she has clients in five countries. Her number-one hotel is Couples Resorts, but she also does business with Sandals, Secrets, and Hyatt.
Chin Tung said that being listed among the top 10 was a shocker.
“I know I have laboured tirelessly to promote brand Jamaica, and this is indeed an affirmation that the hard work has paid off. This only goes to show everyone that anything is possible,” he said.
Chin Tung is hoping that his award will motivate others to maximise their potential.
Lauding the 60 producers, Jamaica’s director of tourism, Donovan White, spoke of the critical role played by travel agents. Citing 2018 research, White said that agents were responsible for about 43 per cent of travel bookings globally.
White rubbished concerns that the retail travel business would be decimated by online bookings.
“I read something about a month ago that said that the retail travel trade is now responsible for some 60 per cent of bookings worldwide,” he told the gathering, which included hoteliers, transportation operators, and destination management companies.
The agents are credited for the tourist industry’s impact beyond the perimeter of resort towns.
“A number of these travel specialists have become an extended part of our sales team. They are bringing down friends, they are telling visitors not to stay in the confines of their resorts,” Philip Rose, regional director for the USA, told The Gleaner.