09 OCT 2019: “Simmer Down,” might be one of the last songs a Leafs fan would expect to hear at the good ol’ hockey game, but a Jamaican band covering the classic Wailers’ ska tune at the Buds game with the Blues Monday night in Toronto was just the point.  

“Remember Jamaica when it’s 13 below,” the lead singer smiled between songs to those entering the arena. We’re guessing the band dusted off Third World’s “96 Degrees in the Shade” later in the set.

The performance was just one facet of Jamaica Night at the Air Canada Centre, now in its fourth year (at two Leafs games a season – in October and again in February), others including rink advertising and a corporate box for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) to host select industry partners for the occasion.

The association with “a storied franchise like the Leafs is a great opportunity to reach out to this audience and sell them on Jamaica… and bring the brand closer to the consumer,” JTB tourism director Donovan White told Travel Industry Today.

With close to 400,000 annual visitors from Canada, Jamaica is forecasting a 2 to 2.5 per cent increase from this country in 2019, reversing the stagnant trend of 2017-18. Overall, the island is expecting about 9% growth this year.

And the prospects for growth continue into next year, says Donovan, who notes that several new hotel projects are coming on stream in 2020 and beyond, which will add 15,000 rooms on the island – and take the total to 37,000 by the end of next year. Key among the developments was the recent announcement by Sunwing that it will open Jamaica’s first Planet Hollywood next year. Along with a future Hard Rock, among other hotels, the resorts will give Jamaica the chance to offer a “different flavour” in its product portfolio, and most notably the chance to attract millennials.

jamaica group
JTB at the Leafs game: Racquel Queensborough, Donovan White, Angella Bennett and Dan Hamilton.

Donovan notes that the JTB is already working with Canadian partners to create packages that will take advantage of the new offerings, as well as the tourist board’s new focus on experiential travel.

“We’re talking to the tour operators about more than sun, sand and sea. There’s food, culture, music, health and wellness… It’s not just about price,” he says. “It’s how do we create a value proposition?”

The message is one the JTB is eager to have resonate with the travel agents as well, who, despite the strides Jamaica have taken to be more “consumer facing” (like Hockey Night) are – still the backbone of the Jamaica experience. “In the end, they’re the ones who are selling,” Donovan says.

And to that end, the JTB continues to focus on Canadian tour operators and travel agents, with training for the latter an ongoing priority for the Toronto-based office led by new regional director of tourism for Canada Angella Bennett, and her experienced staff. This month, the JTB is hosting a cross-country roadshow, with events in Saskatchewan already completed (and dates in Alberta, Ontario and Quebec still to come), and approximately 300 agents have or will visit the island this fall on FAMs courtesy of Air Canada Vacations and WestJet.

The JTB also benefits from supplier partnerships, most notably Sandals (which is conducting its own road show in Canada this fall). “It’s the largest hospitality brand in the Caribbean, but they are known as a Jamaican brand.” says Donovan. “The relationship is symbiotic – they are so synonymous with Jamaica. Where they go, we go!”

As for Hockey Night, the Leafs lost, but Jamaica was clearly a winner.

jamaica band
Serenading hockey fans with the Jamaican songs


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Michael Baginski

Editor, Mike Baginski is well known and well respected within the industry across Canada, the US, in the Caribbean, Mexico and numerous other destinations outside North America.

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