News that tourist arrivals are returning to pre-pandemic levels is indeed encouraging as it speaks to Jamaica's popularity as a holiday destination and the fact that people overseas feel comfortable with the island's management of the novel coronavirus outbreak.
To its eternal credit, the tourism industry was early out of the blocks after Jamaica was shut down in March 2020 when the first case of the virus was reported here. Readers will recall that the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association assembled a team drawing from its wide stakeholder groups, involving Government, hotels, attractions, and all their component parts and linkages.
By April 23, 2020 the team had a first draft on its way to creating the Resilient Corridor. That was fine-tuned by the tourism and health ministries and sent to the Cabinet, which subsequently signed off on May 10, 2020.
It is worth repeating that the sense of conviction, collaboration, and determination of the tourism leaders made it possible for the Government to give the go-head for the industry to reopen in mid-June 2020. That, we hold, was a saviour, as the economy, which relies heavily on tourism earnings, was plunging.
We remember well that within a month of the reopening Jamaica welcomed more than 810,000 visitors and, by August 15 last year, the number of visitors spiralled to one million. Chalk up that impressive performance to the success of the Resilient Corridor, which was the only space in Jamaica offering 100 per cent testing of visitors and has a positivity rate of infections of below one per cent.
One of the factors contributing to that reality is that 95 per cent of Jamaica's hotels and attractions are in open air spaces which are not as conducive to spread of the virus.
The industry's rebound is also due to the tenacity of its stakeholders who made sure that even during the period when international travel had dried up, Jamaica remained foremost in the minds of people in our major visitor markets.
We are therefore not surprised to learn that stopover arrivals have been impressive over the past few months and on Monday we heard from the tourism minister that close to 35,000 visitors came through the Sangster and Norman Manley international airports combined, between Thursday, March 10 and Sunday, March 13.
That number, the tourism ministry told us, tops the combined 30,000 arrivals the previous weekend, with Sangster International Airport handling 27,000 visitors.
The minister also projected that, “This March will be the strongest in terms of arrivals since the pandemic disrupted worldwide tourism in 2020 and we expect in excess of 200,000 coming to Jamaica for the month.”
He also reported that American Airlines is to add another route to Jamaica when it inaugurates weekly flights from Austin, Texas to Montego Bay on June 4, flying a 76-seat aircraft on Saturdays. Additionally, his optimism about the industry's rebound has been enhanced by the fact that the Marella Explorer 2 cruise ship resumed home porting in Montego Bay on Monday.
All this, as we have said, is good news as it will provide economic benefit to workers in the industry, other people who make a living directly and indirectly from tourism, and the country in general.
What we are seeing here is Jamaica and its people surviving this crisis and, hopefully, emerging stronger.