Craft, transportation, and farming sectors eager for tourism resumption

As hoteliers prepare for the opening of the country’s borders to international travellers next week, people in a number of other sectors say they are eager to return to work as the Government moves to rehabilitate the economy which has been battered by the novel coronavirus pandemic.

“My members are ready and looking forward to getting back to work,” Junior Lawrence, president of the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA) Montego Bay Chapter, is quoted in a news release from the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association’s communications firm.

“We have been out of work for too long. This pandemic struck without warning and the transport sector does not earn enough for us to have put away anything. We have loans to pay, and though some of the conventional banks have given a moratorium on payments, we will soon have to start paying them back,” Lawrence said.

“The ground transport operators have a direct relationship to the lifeblood of Jamaica, and it is vital that we reopen now. When someone jumps on a JUTA, that is direct dollars that a driver can pay his bills, go to the supermarket and the gas station, look after his family, his wife could go to the hairdresser,” Lawrence added.

In preparation for the opening, Lawrence said his association is putting things in place to sensitise members about safety protocols when interacting with guests.

“We have sanitiser dispensers in our offices, drivers have personal masks and even have disposable masks that can be given to our passengers where they forget or misplace theirs,” he explained.

Jamaica’s borders were closed to all incoming travellers on March 21 following the coronavirus outbreak in the country. The first case was recorded on March 10.

The tourism sector, which contributed approximately US$3.7 billion to the economy from 4.3 million arrivals last year, directly employs 170,000 people and provides indirect income to another 200,000.

The sector has been hard hit by the closure, losing approximately US$15 million daily, and workers, who have been laid off, are now reeling from the absence of income.

Two Sundays ago, during a digital press conference at Jamaica House, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that the country’s borders will be reopened to international travellers on June 15.

Two days later he told the Lower House that arriving travellers will undergo mandatory screening at the airports, where a determination will be made if they should be tested.

Farmer Martin Zsifkovics, CEO of Austrojam Limited, said he was happy to “welcome the resumption of the partnership with the hotels which is critical to securing the supply chain for the island’s farmers”.

His farm supplies a range of fresh produce, including watermelons, cantaloupes, honey dew melons, cucumbers, Irish potatoes, onion, pineapples, and papaya to hotels and supermarkets.

Noting that many farmers were virtually devastated by the lockdown of the tourism industry as a result of the pandemic, Zsifkovics said, “A lot of us depend on the contracts with hotels and restaurants. We provide consistent supply and we have assured markets. As a result of the lockdown, many farmers lost produce, there were not enough buyers for reaped crops. Some have not replanted because they had no idea when the hotels and restaurants would open again and could not afford to lose even more money. The opening up of the economy, and the hotels and restaurants in particular, will give us all the confidence to plant with the expectation of access to confirmed contracts and markets,” he said.

Melody Haughton, president of the All Island Craft Traders and Producers, said, “We welcome the opening back of our counrty. Since the start of the pandemic in Jamaica and the closure of airports, hotels, and attractions, the craft traders and producers and those employees in the industry have not been able to earn an honest living.”

“This is the industry we depend on to send our children to school and to university and to equip them for high-ranking jobs. If it were not for this industry we would have no opportunities. We are really challenged at this time as this is our only source of income and the pandemic hit us suddenly, with no preparation in place. So we definitely welcome the opening back of our country,” she said.

“It is clear that COVID-19 is not leaving any time soon, and we cannot just stay on lockdown. We have to work to educate ourselves, put protocols in place and ensure our members adhere to them. We expect that the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association will also ensure that all players in the industry adhere to the protocols and existing rules as we all come together to make a safe, complete resort, giving every visitor a positive experience to share with others,” Haughton added.

Meanwhile, JHTA President Omar Robinson welcomed the support of the allied sectors.

“Restarting tourism in this pandemic is not easy,” he said. “It’s like a rehabilitation process, and we have to begin slowly and safely. Tourism involves considerably more contact with visitors and guests than many other industries, and we have put in the necessary health and preventive measures in this transition period. Social distancing, masks, sanitisation, health and safety of our team members remain our top priority. Our protocols include extensive cleaning and checking of temperatures as the JHTA takes clear steps to create the confidence needed for everyone that is crucial to a strong recovery for all Jamaica.”

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