Some hotels are taking bookings

NEGRIL, Westmoreland — The executive director of the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) Dr Carey Wallace says speculation is that the Jamaica tourism sector could reopen soon, and as a result, some major hotels have anecdotally been proactive in the start of bookings for the month of June.

“I am aware that some of the large properties are actually accepting reservations for June and it could be just speculative, and they may have an option to postpone if the flights are not up and the airports are not open. But I believe in terms of speculation and looking at the forecast and so on, they have gone ahead and accepted reservations for June,” disclosed Dr Wallace.

Noting that while the industry is guided by the Ministry of Health and Wellness protocols, so as not to compromise the health of persons for the sake of tourism, Dr Wallace suggested that it would be good if the industry could be reopened so that people can start earning.

“But, if it can be done, we want to reopen the industry so that persons can go back to work. Persons can start earning again as soon as possible,” argued Dr Wallace.

Dr Wallace told the Jamaica Observer that the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) had already put in place protocols that would facilitate operations with COVID-19 in mind. These include social distancing and how to serve guests while remaining safe.

He also stated that protocols will also include a limitation to how many people can be allowed in a tour bus during the COVID-19 era.

In addition, the TEF has also started two online courses that deal with public sanitisation and the other, safe serve.

When asked, Dr Wallace noted that the reopening of the sector will have to be done with the St Catherine incident involving one business process outsourcing (BPO) entity in mind.

The parish of St Catherine was placed under a 14-day lockdown after becoming the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak on the island. This lockdown was extended by three days to Friday, May 1. This followed the Alorica call centre in Portmore registering over 200 confirmed cases of the deadly disease.

However, Dr Wallace argued that once there is no vaccine, the tourism industry will have to operate with persons observing strict safety guidelines.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of industry we are in. The way the virus spreads, once persons are contaminated and the way they operate is such that people are not carrying out safety protocols, then the risk is that people become contaminated, and so, all of Jamaica when we open back unless there is a cure or vaccine, we will have to operate in that modus operandi,” stressed Dr Wallace.

“We just have to keep our distances, wash our hands and use sanitisers a lot so that we are not passing on and continuing the contracting of the virus because it spreads fast once you are in contact with other persons. So, we are better off following the protocols if we want things to get back to normal,” added the TEF executive director.

Meanwhile, president of the Negril Chamber of Commerce Richard Wallace told the Sunday Observer that he has heard of hotels tentatively taking reservations.

He said he is confident that the sector will rebound as there are prospective guests from overseas who have been showing an interest in coming to Jamaica.

“There are people who want to come to Jamaica. There are people who are calling us, and I know as soon as we open, people will be coming. So, we are confident that our sector will get back as soon as things go back to normal, we will be getting people coming back,” said Wallace.

Before the pandemic, the tourism sector had employed over 160,000 people. However, this was drastically reduced to 40,000 following the lay-offs of about 120,000.

For the 2019/2020 fiscal year, the country earned US$4.16 billion in revenue from some 3.9 million visitor arrivals in comparison to US$3.43 billion for the previous fiscal year from 4.3 million visitors arriving.

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