Bartlett happy with plans in place for reopening of tourism sector

MONTEGO BAY, St James — As the island braces for the June 15 phased reopening of the tourism sector which was brought to a standstill by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett has expressed satisfaction with the safety of tourism facilities he toured in western Jamaica on Wednesday.

“… We did a fact-finding tour of select properties in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios – Hospiten, Holiday Inn, Sandals Montego Bay, Sangster International Airport, Coral Cliff/Margaritaville, Deja Resorts and Jamaica Inn – to gauge the readiness of the industry for reopening. I am pleased by what I have seen, and I am confident in the reopening of the tourism sector in a manner that is safe and secure for tourism workers, Jamaican citizens and our visitors,” Bartlett said during a digital press briefing yesterday.

“We were so impressed, too, with the type of investments that are being made to protect the workers, and the PPEs (personal protective equipment) that have already been bought.”

Bartlett said the more than 350,000 displaced workers need to return to work, as he addressed the economic loss to the industry from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The estimated loss of direct tourism revenue to the Government due to COVID-19 — for April 2020 to May 2021 — is $38.4 billion. The estimated overall loss to the economy from visitor expenditure from stopover arrivals is $107.6 billion,” he said.

“You can see, therefore, that the phased reopening of our borders to international travellers on June 15 is not just about tourism. It is a matter of economic life or death,” Bartlett added.

“We need to get the over 350,000 pandemic-displaced workers back to work. We need to provide some salvation to the many tourism enterprises that right now are at severe economic risk.”

He argued that the phased opening of the sector will be along the coast, from Negril to Port Antonio, which, he argued, will facilitate an easy monitoring of the visitors. The second phase of the opening could be announced at the next evaluation on June 30, he said.

“We are establishing what is called a ‘COVID Resilient Corridor’ and that corridor essentially will run from Negril through Port Antonio, along the coast. So it will embrace all the activities within that area, just along the main road, straight through the coast. Anything that is on the leeward side is not taken in. It’s on the windward side where beaches are. So it’s a manageable corridor to have easy access but the most important thing is we will be able to trace the visitors,” he argued.

When the sector reopens later this month both visitors and workers will be required to wear masks, Bartlett told reporters.

Meanwhile, Director of Tourism Donovan White indicated that the sector has retained roughly 50 per cent of bookings.

“In relation to what the marketplace is doing and saying, what we are seeing is that there is — for the months of July, August and September — there is a retention of about 50 per cent of the number of bookings that would have existed the same time last year,” White said.

“And as we go further out into the year… in September, October and November, we are seeing a higher rate of retention compared to last year. So we are up in the 70 per cent range for those months. There is a heavy demand still being retained in terms of bookings that are in the system that were made prior to COVID by travellers that is being retained in the system today. So there is still a heavy demand for Jamaica in the visitor space.”

But Bartlett pointed out that during the initial months of the opening-up period the numbers could be less as arrivals will be dependent on the availability of flights, which he indicated will be fewer.

“The demand that exists is going to be met by flight scheduling and a number of other variables and we think that in this early period as we all start back we are going to see fewer flights,” Bartlett reasoned.

“So we are looking at somewhere in the region of actual volume of the high 20s and mid-30s, thereabouts, in the first instance. The demand is there and we know because those were pent-up demands from previous periods but the ability to respond to that demand in terms of how the industry is opening globally and is constraining the volume we are going to get,“ said the tourism minister.

With the COVID-19 putting brakes on the strong start of stopover arrivals this year, Bartlett is now expecting that at the end of the year the destination will record about one million stopover arrivals.

“I can tell you that in the first two months we had 650,000 stopover that came, and on the basis of how we are projecting we perhaps could have another 400,000, if all goes well between when we open and December 31. So for the end of the year we could be somewhere in about a million or 1.1 million.”

Last year the country welcomed 4.3 million visitors from which the economy earned US$3.7 billion.

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