Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is admitting that the entire tourism industry in Jamaica is facing imminent closure given the travel restrictions on many of its source markets as well as local containment and restriction protocols.
This admission comes as larger hotel chains and smaller hotels announce closures and the laying off of staffers. The latest hotel chain to announce that it will stop receiving guests is Decameron All-inclusive Hotels and Resorts.
The hotel chain will stop receiving guests for a period of two months, effective today March 20. While the hotel has not said it will be closing, nonetheless, it would not be fully operational since the hotel will not be receiving any visitors.
On Tuesday RIU announced that it was closing three of its properties: RIU Palace, RIU Negril and RIU Montego Bay, as of yesterday March 19. This is as a result of the pandemic forcing a reduction in visitor arrivals and decreasing demand for flights and cutting the nation's tourism projections.
Some 1,000 workers will be affected by the closures at RIU. No sooner that this announcement was made, Half- Moon also announced a temporary closure of its Montego Bay- based resort.
HOPE FOR A SHORT-LIVED CLOSURE
Speaking in an interview with the Caribbean Business Report Minister Bartlett expressed the hope that the closure of Jamaica's tourism industry will be short-lived and that the recovery programme will be quick so that normalcy can be returned at the shortest possible time.
He was quick to make the point that Jamaica is not alone in this regard as many other countries have closed down their hotel sector, anticipating a short-lived closure.
“In fact the entire world is following that position (closing markets for travel); it is proven that the optimal way to deal with the virus now is to prevent the movement of the vectors from one location to the other,” Bartlett argued.
REGIONAL TOURISM RESPONSE
The tourism minister remarked that a regional approach is being crafted to protect the Caribbean tourism product from COVID -19. The Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO) is spearheading this initiative in collaboration with regional health agencies.
Bartlett pointed out that the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association as well as the Global Tourism Reliance and Crisis Management Centre are also playing a role in crafting this regional tourism approach for COVID 19. He emphasised that this response approach has more to do with tourism reliance and how support can be given to the public health efforts to contain and prevent the proliferation of the COVID- 19 virus.
According to Bartlett, “It is difficult for CTO or any organisation now to look at any kind of marketing arrangements or any other operational arrangements. CTO doesn't have the capacity to provide stimulus for the sector at this time but we certainly are advocates.”
He said CTO will play a strong advocacy role, particularly for governments of the region to support the recovery programme to “enable the entities that are the drivers of tourism in the region to continue to operate, as they can, but more also to protect their future cash flow and the position of the workers of the industry.”
As it regards Jamaica, Bartlett reported that his ministry has been working with the Ministry of Finance and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) to institute fiscal arrangements that will help to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on workers in the sector.
Based on these new developments, discussions have been ongoing among the Ministries of Tourism and Finance and the Public Service, as well as the JHTA to iron out a plan of action to help safeguard all tourism workers over the last several weeks.
Already, the Government is implementing fiscal actions to cushion the economic impact of COVID-19. These include discussions with commercial banks for them to provide temporary cash flow support to businesses and consumers in affected sectors through deferral of principal payments, new lines of credit and other measures such as the introduction of the COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) programme.
The CARE programme has four elements namely the introduction of the Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) — which will provide temporary cash transfer to businesses in targeted sectors based on the number of workers they keep employed and secondly supporting Employees with Transfer of Cash (SET Cash) — which will provide temporary cash transfer to individuals where it can be verified that they lost their employment since March 10.
The third element is the special soft loan fund to assist individuals and businesses that have been hard hit and fourthly supporting the poor and vulnerable with special Covid-related grants.