I think the worst is behind us — Adam Stewart
STEWART...I think for surethe worst is behind us. Oncethe first vaccination wasapproved we're seeing a hugecorrelation between peoplebeing vaccinated and consumerconfidence
Sandals occupancy rates range up to 80 per cent as summer approaches and tourism picks up

As vaccination programmes in key source markets advance, Sandals Resorts International (SRI) said it was already seeing a 65 to 80 per cent occupancy rate at its hotels for the upcoming months as the ravages of the novel coronavirus pandemic on the tourism sector gradually subside.

“I think for sure the worst is behind us. Once the first vaccination was approved we're seeing a huge correlation between people being vaccinated and consumer confidence. When I look down the periscope [I concur with the projected figures], we knew that January and February would be light and that March would be a better month. However, where it gets truly exciting is in May, and certainly for my organisation we are back into the 65-80 per cent occupancy band between June [and] July,” Adam Stewart, executive chairman of SRI, said at last week's edition of the Mayberry Investors Forum.

He said that outside of the aggressive vaccination programmes being undertaken in key markets, such as the United States and United Kingdom, the high levels of pent-up demand and cabin fever are real and are expected to drive tourist arrivals to the Caribbean region.

“Consumers lost their spring, summer and their winter vacations and people want to travel. We know there is more money in the banking system in America, primarily than there has ever been because discretionary spending came to a halt with the curfews, lockdowns and restrictions. The Caribbean has always been the darling, with Jamaica at the top of the list, for the Americas, [as such] people are ready to travel and they are determined to get their summer holidays this year,” said Stewart, who also noted that the creation of Jamaica's resilient corridors has gained approval internationally, as people have been demanding safe travel destinations.

Stewart said that while 2021 will be the year that the tourism sector will begin to recover, starting this summer, the greatest gains will start to come during the Thanksgiving holiday this year through to 2022/23, which he anticipates will be excellent years.

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett, who was also a guest at the forum, said that with global recovery for the sector now averaging some 45-46 per cent up to June, he was optimistic going into the summer.

“Here in Jamaica we're seeing green shoots — there are better bookings and the placings are looking better for summer. By winter we expect that we should have turned the corner a little better,” Bartlett argued.

He said that with some 750 seats already confirmed for summer, the sector was looking to recover earnings following significant fallout from the pandemic, which saw global earnings decrease from US$7.1 trillion in 2019 to US$4.7 trillion in 2020. During the period, some 62 million of 360 million people employed to the sector also lost jobs — 130,000 of which accounted for local figures.

Other sector players, including Ian Dear, CEO and executive chairman of Express Catering Limited, and Mark Hart, executive chairman of Caribbean Producers Jamaica Ltd (CPJ), who also spoke on the panel during the virtual forum, both expressed optimism and a positive outlook for a recovery of the lucrative sector.

Dear said that while the sector will not achieve pre-COVID-19 levels this year, the small progress now seen marks the start of a turnaround which will bring increased levels of occupancies and arrivals.

“We're very positive right now as we think that people want to have a summer vacation [hence] we're going to see a good amount of travel in the summer months. We really think the worst is behind us and the success of our customers is really CPJ's success,” Hart added.

Tourists enjoying the amenities at Sandals Montego-Bay resort
Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett speaking at a Mayberry investors forum held on March 31 about tourism recovery efforts. The sector since March last year has been severly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic
BY KELLARAY MILES Business reporter milesk@jamaicaobserver.com

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