Hotelier optimistic about bounce back of tourism industry

ST James hotelier Robin Russell is expressing qualified optimism about the tourism sector’s recovery in the months ahead and is anticipating a “sensible winter season” despite the onslaught on the industry by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously the hotel industry is very optimistic that we will be able to pick up in six months. [We’re] looking forward to a sensible winter season. We know it won’t be 100 per cent but I think the figure we’re looking at is from anywhere between 60 and 70 per cent of where we were last year. That would be a decent hotel season,” said Russell, operator of Deja Hotel in Montego Bay.

He was speaking at this week’s Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange via Web-based videoconferencing tool Zoom.

His statement follows a three-month closure of the sector which lost a sizeable chunk of its summer season, with the virus slowing the pace of Jamaica’s summer arrivals by 40 per cent.

Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) President Omar Robinson told the Observer that the period was impacted, understandably, by cancellations.

“We had lost a fair amount of business due to people cancelling and/or rescheduling. So summer, which would have been robust, which would have been strong, we’re probably going to be about 50 to 60 per cent,” said Robinson.

This is also due, in part, he said, to the delayed reopening of Canada’s borders, with the North American country being Jamaica’s second-largest market.

“You have to take into consideration that our Canadian flights, some may not come back in the immediate future. The UK and Europe, those are also big markets for us in the summer and some of those, too, will also not come back right away,” the JHTA head said.

And with the COVID-19 crisis crippling economies, globally, basic changes in consumer behaviour have knocked scores of stakeholders in the industry off balance and toppled others, as a vacation for many has become less of a priority.

Despite this, Russell remains buoyant that a late pick-up in the summer season will bolster the winter season.

“We know that the summer is already passed and you know people are still very concerned about travelling [but] we’re hoping that we will be looking at around 30 per cent of where we were last year in the hotel business. And, we’re using the opportunity to get our protocols in order [and] train our staff. So we don’t really mind the slow start; we’re just hoping that by August/September we pick up 30 per cent of where we were last year,” he said.

Earlier this month, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett said that with a summer restart, the industry could record visitor arrivals averaging between 20 and 30 per cent, with the figure rounding down to 20 per cent during the fall period, before picking up to about 60 or 70 per cent over the winter season.

“We could end up with another two million visitors — somewhere around 50 per cent of last year if we can have a summer start… between June and August,” he said.

The minister pointed out that the industry’s out-turns for the first two months of the calendar year were strong.

“We had 5.5 per cent gross tourist arrivals; we brought in 1.25 million visitors and earned US$859 million. That would have put us on a path to earn US$4 billion by the end of the year, with 4.5 million visitors. We were doing extremely well. However, as of March 10, the numbers fell to zero. You can imagine the horror of that moment! That’s a big blow,” he said.

“Before the threat of the novel coronavirus, Jamaica’s tourism sector was confidently entering into its 10th-consecutive year of growth. Following a record-breaking year in 2019, tourism receipts for January and February indicated that the sector was growing at a rate of 5.2 per cent in 2020. Today the industry… filled with uncertainty and economic challenges… is facing a new paradigm,” Bartlett added.

— Additional reporting by

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