Tourism sector fallout from COVID-19Tuesday, March 17, 2020
BY HORACE HINES
MONTEGO BAY, St James — The local tourism sector is now in a tailspin following news that the Canadian Government has cautioned its citizens against non-essential travel and imposed general limitations in movement in response to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The World Health Organisation put the number of confirmed cases in Canada at 304 as of 4:00 pm yesterday.
Last year alone, Jamaica welcomed approximately 400,000 stopover visitors from Canada.
Senior strategist in the tourism ministry Delano Seiveright described the latest development as a devastating blow.
“Canada is our second largest market for stopover arrivals, representing roughly 15 per cent of the business. It's a huge blow, but expected given current trends globally which lean towards restriction of non-essential travel,” he told the Jamaica Observer last night. “[Tourism] Minister [Edmund] Bartlett has been in touch with all key stakeholders as we all see the countries around the globe close doors.”
Meanwhile, the Observer has been reliably informed that Canada's Air Transat is suspending all flights until April 30 and will this morning provide passengers in Jamaica with flights back to Canada.
“In response to collapsing bookings, airlines have decided to curtail flights for several weeks and reassess in due course. Folks are either cancelling or postponing vacations,” Seiveright noted.”Airlines are cutting back capacity significantly. We are in a wait and see [mode] regarding cutbacks on capacity for Jamaica by major carriers American Airlines, Delta, Southwest, Jetblue, Air Canada, Sunwing, Westjet, etcetera.”
Tourism interests are already feeling the impact.
Chairman of the Montego Bay Chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) Robin Russell said members of the association are reporting cancellations and postponements.
“Right now we have a few bookings but most of our forward bookings are not materialising and also they are being cancelled. People are calling and cancelling their reservations right across the membership. There is no property on island now or no business on the island now involved in tourism that is not being affected,” said Russell, who is also the general manager of Deja Resorts in Montego Bay.
He added that while there are no reports of workers being laid off, “it is inevitable”.
“I know that there is at least one property in Negril that is already closed. I can [understand] if there is no business, that properties will either have to close or scale down — and close down blocks,” he said.
“But a lot of the larger properties and these tour operators have closed down their operations temporarily to Jamaica and even other Caribbean or Mexican destinations. The small properties also depend on these tour operators, and closing down their operation simply means there is no business. When airlines have cancelled up to 80 per cent of their international flights the destinations are going to be affected,” he added.
Leezo Wallace, general manager of the Jamaican operations of Unique Vacations Limited (UVL), the worldwide representative for Sandals and Beaches Resorts, said “volumes are going down”.
“[There is] definitely an impact. We are watching it and over the next couple days we will be in a better place to assess. Some of the persons who have booked are looking to [make] revisions to their bookings but some are still coming,” Wallace said.
And John Byles, executive director of Chukka Adventures, noted that there is definitely a drop in business.
“The cruise lines, as you are aware, have stopped operations for 30 days; [there are also] travel restrictions worldwide and some [are] our international partners. It's a major shock! We are in the midst of the shock right now, it's going to be [this way] for a period of time,”Byles said.
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