MONTEGO BAY, St James – Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett welcomed the first arrivals of the winter tourist season, admitting just days after the announcement of massive layoffs in the industry, that the season would be a tough one, but not one without any prospects.

“We understand it’s going to be a very tough winter season for Jamaica,” Bartlett admitted. “(But) we will be wringing every inch of value that we can get out of this worldwide slump,” he told the Observer, citing the sector’s biggest market, the US, which had 63 million people who were still flying.

He spoke shortly after he and other top tourism officials welcomed American couple, Bruce and Norma Yarbrough, who were the first to arrive on a full Air Jamaica flight from Los Angeles at 7:45 at the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. The first-time visitors are scheduled for a one-week stay at Couples Resort in Negril.

“Once the airlines are travelling and moving this way, I am predicting that this winter season is going to shock and shame a lot of people,” Bartlett said.

Already he said preliminary arrivals for the first two weeks of December was up 9.3 per cent over the same period last year.

He noted that Jamaica was still in a very good position to benefit by driving whatever substance was still in the market and added that he would be appealing to the stakeholders to stay positive and engage in continuous marketing.

“Yields are going to be lower this winter season because of the consumer-driven market that we are now in but we want to use this difficult period to significantly improve our efficiency and to improve the quality also of our service,” said Bartlett.

His optimism comes just days after Sandals Resorts International, the region’s top tourism employer, and other local chains announced that they would be reducing their staff count. Sandals announced its plan last week to lay off 650 employees, including 285 from Jamaica.

The minister was optimistic that the strong marketing and advertising programmes that have been launched by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in several cities across the US, the number of air lifts, improvements to local highways and airports and the investment in resort properties by hotel stakeholders, put the island in good stead to rebound after the current economic slump.