Cautious approach as south coast reopensMonday, July 27, 2020
BY GARFIELD MYERS
Santa Cruz, St Elizabeth — Easily among Jamaica's most popular nature-based attractions, YS Falls in northern St Elizabeth reopened to visitors last Tuesday, after a near four-month break triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic.
As was expected by the attraction's management, there has been a trickle, rather than a flood of visitors in the few days since reopening.
“We have had no problems keeping social distance,” quipped Manager Simon Browne.
He estimated there had been 40 visitors per day Tuesday through Friday building up to over 70 on Saturday. He expects the numbers— mostly Jamaicans with a few south coast overseas visitors — to gradually increase in coming weeks and months.
“We are abiding by all the (COVID-19) protocols,” said Browne, “everybody practising social distancing, wearing masks, we are doing temperature checks and at YS we have plenty of space, no issues with overcrowding”.
For Jason Henzell, recently appointed by Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett to play a lead role in tourism reopening arrangements on the south coast, the 'social distanced' approach at YS Falls is the way to go.
“We need to be very cautious, how we approach this thing,” Henzell, hotelier and restaurant operator in Treasure Beach, told the Jamaica Observer by telephone.
Henzell, who is also south coast representative for the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), said that in addition to the risk of COVID-19 spread, tourism-related operators had to move warily to avoid financial losses as a result of premature reopening.
“To open a cottage, villa, attractions are much smaller risks than opening a hotel, so all these considerations we have to take into account,” he said.
The reopening of YS Falls and a number of other tourism-related businesses on the south coast in recent days, followed the Government's implementation of the second phase of coronavirus (COVID-19) Resilient Corridor as part of the phased reopening of the multi-billion-dollar tourist industry.
A south coast corridor from Negril, Westmoreland in the west to Milk River in Clarendon to the east was officially opened up to tourists from July 15.
The first phase of reopening had allowed tourists along a northern corridor, from Negril in the west through Jamaica's north coast to Port Antonio in the east.
Bartlett has served notice of a further extension of the southern corridor, in an easterly direction from Milk River to St Thomas.
Henzell is reminding tourism operators that they will need certification from Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCO) before reopening.
Even before the formal reopening of the south coast to overseas visitors, residents from the capital Kingston as well as expatriates have been renting villas and cottages at Treasure Beach, Henzell whose restaurant, Jack Sprat, is among businesses that reopened earlier this month.
His Jakes Hotel is set for reopening on Thursday, though he describes it as a “big risk” because of uncertainties surrounding arrivals.
The continuing surge in COVID-19 cases in the United States, which is Jamaica's biggest tourism source, is a huge cause of concern for hoteliers and other tourism stakeholders.
Counterbalancing factors include the decision by several European countries to block American tourists and also the delayed reopening of some Caribbean destinations. Those factors favour Jamaica, because of limited options for Americans wanting to travel.
Henzell noted that September and October are traditionally slow months for arrivals, likely to be dampened further by US presidential elections in November.
“I don't expect any serious (visitor) increases until after the US elections,” he said.
In terms of established south coast visitor attractions, YS Falls has been among the first out of the blocks. Others such as the offshore Pelican Bar, the Appleton Rum Tour and Lovers' Leap have either reopened or will do so soon.
Henzell hopes that efforts to get approval for faster, easier means of COVID-19 testing will find fertile ground and boost arrivals from abroad.
He points to a Jamaican backlog of COVID-19 test results said to be in the region of 10,000 as evidence of the need for a change in approach from the tedious, cumbersome PCR (polymerase chain reaction) method.
“We need to be realistic in our expectations of what people are willing to go through to come here,” said Henzell.
Bartlett has made it very clear that the Government will shut down tourism operations which are found to be in breach of COVID-19 protocols.
“If you are not COVID compliant we are going to shut you down and whether you're big or you're small, because we cannot compromise on health security,” the minister was quoted by the Jamaica Information Service (JIS) as saying recently.
Up to yesterday, the pandemic is said to have caused in the region of 650,000 deaths across the globe, 10 of them in Jamaica.
Thousands of Jamaicans lost their jobs as a result of the shutdown of tourism in March and there has been a devastating knock-on effect on the wider economy.