The arrival in Montego Bay yesterday of our one millionth stopover visitor this year is an indication of the continued strong post-pandemic recovery being experienced by the tourism industry.
Readers will recall that at this point last year Jamaica, while seeing a steady increase in visitor arrivals, we did not get to the million mark until August 15. That performance, added to what the country is now experiencing, can be attributed to two main factors.
First, the tenacity of the tourism industry’s stakeholders who made sure that even during the period when international travel had stopped due to the pandemic, Jamaica remained foremost in the minds of people in our major visitor markets.
Second, in March 2020, when the first case of the novel coronavirus was reported here, the tourism ministry and Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) assembled a team that, by April 23, had a first draft of the Resilient Corridor. That plan was fine-tuned by the tourism and health ministries and sent to the Cabinet, which subsequently signed off on May 10, following which the Government gave approval for the industry to be reopened in mid-June.
The Resilient Corridor gave visitors confidence that Jamaica was serious about the safety of travellers and, as we have pointed out before, was a saviour as the economy — which relies heavily on tourism earnings — was plunging. Evidence of that rescue lies in the fact that within a month of the reopening Jamaica welcomed more than 810,000 visitors.
There’s no doubting that visitors feel comfortable with Jamaica’s management of the pandemic. Additionally, the island’s immense attractiveness as a holiday destination, plus the goodwill we have with our travel partners overseas have contributed significantly to this recovery.
But even as we celebrate the industry’s achievements thus far, we are well aware that we are still some distance away from full recovery. The tourism minister tells us that the expectation is that Jamaica will welcome another million stopover visitors in the next four months.
At the same time, the director of tourism has informed us that summer bookings are pacing ahead of the year 2019 and as such will be the strongest summer the country has ever experienced.
Those are extremely encouraging projections which, we hope, will be realised even as we maintain safety protocols to prevent any further spike in COVID-19 cases.
The lifting of mobility restrictions in most countries globally has triggered a heavy resumption of travel that has contributed to a pleasing recovery in employment. World Travel and Tourism Council data show that in 2020, when the pandemic hit, a total of 62 million jobs were lost, leaving just 271 million people employed across the sector globally, compared to 333 million in 2019. Last year, 18.2 million jobs were recovered, representing an increase of 6.7 per cent year on year.
Here in Jamaica the sector had employed approximately 170,000 workers before the emergence of the pandemic. In February this year the JHTA reported that, as of December 2020, only 30 per cent of the employees who had been laid off because of the pandemic were able to return to work full-time. Another 20 per cent, the JHTA and the tourism ministry said, were working part-time as demand, at that time, was still not sufficient to have workers back full-time.
That, we expect, will change for the better, given the industry’s current performance and the tourism ministry’s projections.