Bartlett seeks cooperation in rebuilding tourism

Bartlett seeks cooperation in rebuilding tourism

Senior staff reporter

Thursday, June 25, 2020

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MINISTER of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says that the phased reopening of Jamaica's borders to international travellers on June 15 was not just about tourism, but a matter of economic life or death.

“We need to get the over 350,000 pandemic-displaced workers back to work. We need to provide some salvation to the many businesses and workers that right now are facing very tough times,” Bartlett told colleagues in the House of Representatives yesterday, as he made his contribution to the annual sectoral debate.

“I want to assure you that the reopening is being carried out safely, and in a way that protects our frontline tourism workers, Jamaican citizens and our visitors. As our prime minister stresses, we must continue to protect lives while securing our livelihoods. Our Government has demonstrated consistency in focus and resolve in containing the pandemic and with excellent results. We do not intend to undo this good work,” he added.

“As I always say, the tourism industry is Jamaica's bread and butter. A huge chunk of our nation's GDP, 50 per cent of our foreign exchange earnings, and in excess of 354,000 jobs are in a precarious position. Due to tourism's transversal nature and the linkages with other productive sectors, it also stimulates agriculture, manufacturing, construction, transportation, energy, retail, insurance, banking and the creative economy,” he noted.

“Let us all work together in these extraordinary times to get tourism back on its feet. Our welfare and that of future generations depend on it,” he said.

He noted that the estimated loss of direct tourism revenue to the Government due to COVID-19 for April 2020 to March 2021 was $38.4 billion. The estimated overall loss to the economy from visitor expenditure from stopover arrivals is $107.6 billion, and the nation is losing roughly $400 million per day.

Looking to the future, the tourism minister said as the country prepares for the return of cruise visitors later this year, the tourism ministry, Port Authority and the Ministry of Health, in full coordination with the Professor Gordon Shirley-chaired cruise recovery arm of the Tourism Recovery Taskforce, will outline the measures for the safe return of cruise tourism.

He predicted that visitors will continue to seek experiences, but they will be looking through holistic wellness lens.

“This includes wellness programmes, natural beauty treatments and fresh food with fewer travel miles. This makes Jamaica an easy fit for the 'new normal', because this has always been our focus,” he said.

“Our marketing arm, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), has been doing an excellent job of inspiring confidence in both the local and international markets that Jamaica is a safe and secure destination for all. However, even beyond COVID-19, the JTB's 'Heartbeat of the World' campaign is leveraging Jamaica's natural assets to reinforce our position as a global leader among travel destinations and establish Jamaica as the single destination every traveller must experience.”

Turning to new source markets, he noted that before COVID-19, greater diversity in visitor source markets was already being aggressively pursued in Europe, Asia and Latin America, with additional seats being committed by airline partners to support this growth.

He said that on December 2, 2019, a year and a half after leading a delegation of tourism officials into a meeting with senior executives of LATAM Airlines Group at their headquarters in, Santiago, Chile, Jamaica welcomed the arrival of the first of three weekly scheduled non-stop flights by the airline, between their major hub in Lima, Peru, and Montego Bay, Jamaica.

“These flights fed traffic from Brazil, Chile, Argentina and other Latin American markets. Like everything else, COVID-19 put a halt to this, but our commitment to developing the Latin American market is unwavering, and in due course, we intend to bring back this critical service,” he said.

According to Bartlett, two other promising markets that are being specifically targeted are Japan and India. He noted that Jamaica participated in the 2019 Tourism Expo Japan, confirming the decision to re-enter that market, and since the expo has hosted numerous meetings and seminars with airlines and tour operators. In India, there has been a series of meetings with tour operators and media to enhance the destination's image particularly for weddings, honeymoons, and sports, he also noted.

“Finally, we are in late-stage discussions with insurance and global logistics providers. This will allow travellers who test positive to be quickly isolated and repatriated. These costs will be covered privately, thus reducing the strain on our public health system, making sure health-care capacity remains consistent for our workers and communities,” he said.

However, Bartlett said that while implementing these health and safety protocols, the Government is mindful not to overshadow the “heart and soul of Jamaica”.

“It has made us such an attractive destination for locals and visitors alike, we do not want sanitisation and physical distancing to create a sterile culture. We will continue to infuse our vibrancy, warmth and culture in everything we do,” the tourism minister stated.

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