'Patience,' says Bartlett
...As south coast tourism operators eye reopeningWednesday, July 08, 2020
BY GARFIELD MYERS
SANTA CRUZ, St Elizabeth — Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett is urging patience in response to rising anxiety among tourism-related business operators about the need to reopen Jamaica's south coast to overseas visitors.
“Remember now, we review on a two-weekly basis, the last review was on the first [July 1] and the next is on the 14th,” Bartlett told the Jamaica Observer by telephone yesterday.
The minister said the Government “had to look at all the possibilities” and make an assessment based on the risk of spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), which has killed in excess of half a million people globally and 10 in Jamaica.
Bartlett said the Government would be guided by “data and science”.
An ever-rising spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States is of special concern to Jamaican authorities, who are now requiring pre-testing of visitors from worst-affected areas.
The United States is the biggest source of visitors for Jamaica's multibillion-dollar tourism industry, which came to a shuddering halt in March because of the virus, after borders were closed to incoming passenger traffic.
Hotels, restaurants, attractions, and places of entertainment were closed because of the tourism collapse as well as measures by Government to slow the spread of the virus. Tens of thousands of people lost their jobs.
Farmers, small manufacturers and service sector operators with strong linkages to tourism have been hit hard.
After initially concentrating on a “controlled” re-entry of Jamaicans abroad, the Government on June 15, begun a phased reopening of the visitor industry, restricted to a beachside corridor along the island's exotic north coast — from Negril in the west, to Portland in the east.
South coast operators of hotels, villas, guest houses, and attractions say they were under the impression that by now word would have come from Government as to a reopening date for the south coast.
“We need to be able to plan, so we need an indication as to when,” Treasure Beach hotelier Jason Henzell, who is councillor for the south coast chapter of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, said yesterday.
Henzell believes July 15 would be an appropriate date for south coast hotels, guest houses and villas to resume accepting visitors.
He believes small operators such as those in Treasure Beach who offer a community-based tourism “experience” are well prepared to handle COVID-19 protocols, especially since for now visitors are unlikely to come in large numbers.
“We have six ladies in [Treasure Beach] who are making masks [for sale],” said Henzell, who added that the need for social distancing was now well accepted.
The decision to require pre-testing of visitors from high-risk areas is also a big help, said Henzell.
He estimates that as many as 2,000 rooms in an area extending from White House, Westmoreland in the west through St Elizabeth to Manchester in the east on the south coast tourism belt, have been shut since the onset of COVID-19.
Henzell claims that in the Greater Treasure Beach area of St Elizabeth (which includes Black River), about 5,000 tourism-related workers have lost jobs since March, with thousands more affected by the knock-on effect.
Operator of the popular attraction, YS Falls, in northern St Elizabeth, Simon Browne, told the Observer that outside of overseas visitors, his operation was ready to accept locals who were calling on a “daily basis” asking to visit.
He said he had written to the tourism minister pointing to the readiness of YS Falls to open to locals but had as yet received no reply.
“We have our COVID-19 certificate and we are ready to open, but we have to wait on the Government,” Browne said.