When Montego Bay was the subject of sensationalized news regarding crime last year, Donnie Dawson, deputy director of tourism, sales/USA and Latin America for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), was one of the tourism executives to address the situation without sugarcoating the facts.
Creating Extraordinary Moments With The Excellence
Dawson addressed the proverbial elephant in the room, arming agents with information to help them convince clients that they would be just as safe in Jamaica as they would be anywhere in the Caribbean. Jamaica never experienced a major arrivals dip.
Dawson sat down with AGENTatHOME to discuss the particulars on clearing the destination’s name in a time of exaggerated news reports, as well as future tourism plans for the country.
Relying on Agent Partners
Dawson said the best way to convey the truth to travelers concerned with sensationalized news reports is by relying on Jamaica’s travel agent partners who visit the destination regularly to serve as the country’s information pipeline.
“Our interaction with this core group of agents has not changed. We still do fams, seminars, sales calls, webinars to keep them informed about Jamaica,” Dawson said. “Whenever there are negative stories about Jamaica, we can rely on our loyal travel partners to help dispel any fears their clients may have about traveling. They are our strongest salespeople.”
So, just how important are agents in general for Dawson and Jamaica? “Travel agents are extremely important to us. Eighty percent of our sales budget is directed toward engaging the travel agents, who I now refer to as ‘the sellers of travel,’ ” said Dawson. “Over the years, we have developed an extensive database, 39,000 Jamaica travel specialists in the U.S. and Canada. This is the core group of agents that we work with.”
And what advice would Dawson give to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico and other destinations that are experiencing exaggerated or false media reports? “Don’t hide. Always be upfront with your agents,” said Dawson. “Hopefully, these destinations would have a database of loyal agents. Use them to spread your message. They are great influencers.”
“He knows how to balance being a voice for the tourist board and being an advocate for travel advisors selling Jamaica,” said Jennifer Doncsecz, president of VIP Vacations in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. “If there is ever a crisis in Jamaica that grabs media attention, Donnie has immediately stepped up and the Jamaica Tourist Board has acted swiftly in publishing statements that have thwarted media misconceptions and given travel advisors snippets to use in combating concerns our clients might have. This is something that many other tourist boards have yet to master.”
Anthony Tucker, vice president and general manager at the All-Inclusive Outlet in Georgetown, Kentucky, told AGENTatHOME it’s no coincidence that travel agents trust Dawson when it comes to matters of business. “Donnie is one of the best conversationalists I’ve met in the industry. He has a great, positive personality and never takes himself too seriously, and he has a passion for advocating for the travel agent community,” Tucker said. “He’s also always willing to ask the right questions and listen to advice from his agents who support the Jamaica Tourist Board.”
‘One Love Affair’
And perhaps there is no better example of that than the “One Love Affair” event, which was formerly known as the “White Affair,” which Dawson described as “the crown jewel in our loyalty program.”
This year, the event will be held at Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall from Dec. 12 to 15. Only the top 50 booking agents qualify to attend. “As I tell the agents, no one wins a trip to the One Love Affair—you have to earn it,” said Dawson, adding that the itinerary has not yet been finalized.
Cruise and Airline News
As far as hot cruise news goes, Dawson told AGENTatHOME that the world’s largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s 18-deck Symphony of the Seas—which, at 228,081 gross tons, can accommodate up to 6,680 passengers – is scheduled to call at Falmouth Pier next year.
The latest airline news is led by American Airlines’ recent announcement that it will begin daily service from New York-JFK to Montego Bay on Nov. 21. Additionally, Delta Air Lines will offer daily service from Detroit to Montego Bay, beginning Dec. 21.
Climbing Visitor Numbers
For the first eight months of 2019, Jamaica experienced a 9.1 percent jump in visitor arrivals to 1.87 million over the same period in 2018, said Donovan White, the JTB’s director of tourism, adding that the destination achieved revenues of $2.39 billion, representing a 12 percent growth in earnings. The JTB is projecting a 7 percent increase for the final quarter, bringing 2019 to a total of 2.68 million arrivals.
In other developments, the 29th annual Jamaica Product Exchange (JAPEX) in September welcomed delegates from the U.S., Canada, Latin America and Europe—with a significant increase in global buyer distribution from 2018.
Hosted over two days at the Montego Bay Convention Center, the trade show and conference successfully connected visiting buyers with 91 supplier companies, represented by 220 delegates, through more than 1,000 business appointments.