The Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) was established in 1955 by Tourist Board Law 61 of 1954 … over 450 years after the famous declaration by Christopher Columbus that Jamaica was the “fairest island that eyes have beheld …” The JTB came under the aegis of the Ministry of Trade and Industry.By then, Jamaica had been receiving a steady stream of American and European visitors and it was obvious that the island had the necessary attributes for tourism development. At first, visitors mainly included the wealthy whose primary mode of transportation was by ship. In 1937, on the eve of the Second World War, the total number of visitors to Jamaica soared to 65,269 (54,837 were cruise passengers) from 11,619 in 1926. This increase was credited in part to the arrival of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) Clipper service in December 1930 which provided Jamaica with the first air link to its major market and paved the way for the average traveller to vacation on the island.Not the first formal promotional agency to be established in Jamaica, the JTB succeeded the Tourist Trade Development Board, the first “promotional team constituted by government fiat.” The JTB was created to “promote tourism with maximum vigour and effectiveness,” and the goal of the new Board was to double Jamaica’s tourism business in five years. This was achieved in 1960.At the outset, the then colonial government recognized that representation on the Board had to be diverse and inclusive of various tourism interests. Initially, the JTB comprised 20 members representing the hotel industry, shipping and airline companies, travel agencies, ground transportation providers and other relevant commercial interests. This was later changed with the Tourist Board (Amendment Law) of 1960 which came into effect on April 1, 1961 under which membership on the Board was reduced “to not more than 15”. The change of law also provided for the Chairman of the Board and the Vice-Chairman “to be appointed by the Minister of Trade and Industry and not elected by the members of the Board.”
Executive offices for the newly created JTB were established in the capital city of Kingston with overseas offices in strategic marketing hubs including New York, Miami, Chicago and Toronto, Canada. The island’s major marketing effort was concentrated in North America, with cruise visitors arriving weekly especially aboard the SS Evangeline out of Miami, Florida and also on the Yarmouth.The period 1955-63 was an era of rapid growth and change in the industry. Rising incomes and cheaper airfares made it possible for more visitors to come to Jamaica and created an opportunity for the island to place greater emphasis on developing a year round tourist trade. Under Chairman Abe Issa, increased emphasis was placed on marketing and promotion with intensive advertising and publicity campaigns mounted overseas as well as locally.In May 1957 the JTB opened its own publicity department in Kingston which resulted in increased visibility for Jamaica in its major North American markets. During that year the Board also assumed responsibility for meeting and welcoming visitors to the island, a function previously performed by the Sugar Manufacturers Association. This increased marketing effort is credited with boosting arrivals by some 25.79% in 1957 over 1956. By 1959, two “informational outlets” were opened in the west coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco bringing to six the number of offices and agencies promoting Jamaica in North America. Over the period a local marketing campaign was also launched to make “the man in the street more conversant with, and aware of the potentials of tourism.” A record number of cruise visitors was welcomed to the island in 1959-1960 with over 200 calls made to Kingston (the most popular port), Port Antonio and Montego Bay. Ocho Rios also made its debut as a port of call during that period.
The push into North America was intensified in 1960 with the creation of the new position of General Manager of the North American offices and the appointment of Sam Levy to the post. The advertising and promotional campaign was also heightened in an effort to reach the 200,000 visitor arrival goal. A new slogan: Come to Jamaica – It’s no place like home, was the focus of the advertising campaign overseas. At home, locals were encouraged to support the industry through the campaign Tourism Matters To You. Jamaica Tourist Board regional offices were also established in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios.At the end of 1960, with a record number of cruise calls to Jamaica (171), the JTB achieved its target with tourist arrivals at 226,945, an increase of 19% over 1959 with estimated earnings of £13,616,700. (When the Jamaican dollar was introduced in 1969, J$2.00 was the equivalent of £1) Of the 171 cruise calls to the island, 118 went to Kingston, 26 to Montego Bay, 23 to Port Antonio and four to Ocho Rios.The aggressive overseas marketing campaign continued into the early 1960s, highlights of which included the opening of the London office in 1961 to increase visitor flow from Europe and the subsequent opening of a sales office in 1963; the JTB’s opening of its own public relations department in North America and a major promotion with the Gibson Corporation of the USA in 1961 in which 5,000 “sales persons” visited Montego Bay over a six-week period. The JTB began to promote the island in Hamburg, Germany and Stockholm, Sweden and there was also a marketing thrust in the South American countries of Peru, Colombia and Venezuela.With this intensified marketing effort and the accompanying increase in visitor arrivals, also came expansion and improvement in the island’s infrastructure, a development for which the JTB lobbied vigourously. Over 10 new hotels were built including the Casa Montego, which at eight stories was hailed as Jamaica’s first “skyscraper” hotel. It was viewed as a “remarkable departure in hotel construction in the island” since at that time other hotels favoured the traditional Jamaican design of “long, low buildings”. This period of innovation continued with the opening of the Carib Ocho Rios, Jamaica’s first co-operative apartment hotel. The Sheraton, the island’s first convention type hotel with a guest capacity of 404 was also opened in Kingston. In January 1960 there were 5,800 available beds on the island. By the end of 1963, the number of beds had increased to 7,563.The opening of a new terminal at the Montego Bay airport to facilitate Jamaica’s first jet services, was followed in 1961 with the opening of the new “international jet airport” at the Palisadoes (now Norman Manley), in Kingston. These new facilities provided the opportunity for Pan AmericanAirlines to introduce new services, and for Jamaica to be included on the itineraries of other airlines. By 1963, Jamaica Air Service, a subsidiary of BWIA also began operations in the island with regular twice daily flights to Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Port Antonio.To improve the attractions and entertainment for visitors, championship golf courses including the Runaway Bay, Cardiff Hall and Half Moon (Rose Hall) were built, which along with Tryall and Constant Spring in Kingston brought the total on the island to five. The JTB was also actively involved in supporting and endorsing the development of sports such as tennis and game fishing as these provided additional promotional opportunities for Jamaica. At the same time, with assistance from the JTB, local Action Committees were established in Kingston and Port Antonio, “to improve attractions, develop entertainment” and other facilities.To upgrade the service to visitors the JTB introduced courtesy police in 1961 in Kingston, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios and Port Antonio.Despite the JTB’s intensive marketing and promotional programmes, the “unsettled political situation” in Cuba, the Dominican Republic and Haiti which affected travel to the Caribbean in 1961; the slump on the New York Stock Exchange as well as dock strikes in the USA and Jamaica’s own “Rastafarian troubles” prior to and during the General Elections of 1962, resulted in unfavourable publicity in the United States of America and a subsequent decline in tourist arrivals which continued until the first half of 1963.To improve its image and visitor arrival statistics which by the end of 1962 had begun to decline (206,838) the Jamaica Tourist Board, under the Government of a newly independent Jamaica (August 6, 1962), was re-organised and the first Director of Tourism, John Pringle, appointed in 1963. These changes “led to a major revision of the island’s entire approach to tourism.”1955-1963 was the era in which visitors were invited through an aggressive marketing campaign to “discover” the unique qualities of an island which offered a wealth of new and exciting experiences.By the end of 1963, with the welcome of some 202,329 visitors to its shores, Jamaica appeared firmly placed on the world tourism map and advantageously positioned to reap the benefits of “mass tourism”.