Henzell wants tourists tested before coming to Jamaica

SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — He accepts that the Jamaican Government has already decided on protocols surrounding the phased reopening of the COVID-19-hit multibillion-dollar tourism industry, starting June 15.

However, Treasure Beach hotelier Jason Henzell says he would have preferred if the Government had opted for visitors to be tested for the novel coronavirus before boarding flights to Jamaica.

“I would love people to be tested before they go on the plane,” Henzell, who heads the Jakes hotel, villas, and spa, as well as Jack Sprat Restaurant in Treasure Beach, told the Jamaica Observer by telephone on Monday.

On June 1, the Government announced the reopening of the country’s ports to non-nationals, including tourists, effective June 15. The Government subsequently said that in this first phase of reopening, which is from June 15-30, tourists will be restricted to a “corridor” extending from Negril in the west, along the country’s north coast, to Portland in the east.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has said that, as of June 15, arrivals including tourists, other visitors and Jamaicans, will not be tested for the novel coronavirus unless they show symptoms. Tourists cleared by screening, including temperature checks, will be allowed to go to hotels on the north coast.

Up to June 14, COVID-19 tests are mandatory for passenger arrivals who, until that date, will be almost exclusively Jamaicans.

The Government closed the island’s ports to incoming air and sea passenger traffic on March 24 because of the global COVID-19 emergency. Gradual reopening started in May to accommodate returning Jamaicans.

In seeking to justify his position that tourists should be tested before arriving in Jamaica, Henzell said he believed such a policy would actually strengthen the powerful Jamaica brand.

“Jamaica is a very strong brand with a lot of very loyal visitors,” he said.

“I believe they would respect us even more if we say, ‘We would like you to come but we would like you to have a negative test before you come’,” said Henzell, who also operates the Lovers Leap attraction in Yardley Chase, close to Southfield, south St Elizabeth.

He argued that “what we don’t want” is a large spike in COVID-19 cases that could damage the industry in various ways going forward.

He believes Jamaica and its tourist sector would command “international respect” if it treads carefully in order to protect all concerned, including staff at hotels, restaurants, et cetera.

Henzell, who is councillor for the South Coast Chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), was also concerned at the constraining protocols that are now in place for phase one of reopening. This, he believes, will significantly reduce the quality of the visitor experience.

It was his understanding, he said, that outside of Negril, visitors in phase one of the reopening will not be allowed to leave their north coast hotels. Also, he noted, traditional visitor attractions remain closed.

“No attractions will be open…so pretty much you have limited options. Whereas, if visitors had a negative test [before boarding the plane to come], we could be much more open to them and tourism workers would feel less anxious,” Henzell said.

On Monday, the Urban Development Corporation announced that all its visitor attractions will remain closed. These include: Dunn’s River Falls and Park, Green Grotto Caves & Attractions, Ocho Rios Bay Beach, Reach Falls, Pearly Beach West, Long Bay Beach Park, Bluefield’s Beach Park, Turtle River Park, Walter Fletcher Beach, and Laughing Waters/Protocol House.

Late last week, the Medical Association of Jamaica (MAJ) objected to tourists and other non-nationals coming into the island, as of June 15, without being required to undergo testing for COVID-19.

The MAJ said it was “categorically opposed to tourists coming to our shores without mandatory testing. We advise the Government to revisit this issue and to stay on a path that incorporates sound medical principles”.

Tourist hotels in Treasure Beach and the wider Jamaican south coast, including Henzell’s Jakes, have been closed since March. They are expected to be embraced in phase two of the Government’s reopening programme for the tourism sector.

The word in local tourism circles is that losses in the sector since the COVID-19 outbreak in March is running at about US$15 million daily.

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