MONTEGO BAY, St James — Tourism officials in western Jamaica are imploring workers in the sector to get vaccinated in the Government's COVID-19 inoculation programme as a strong rebound in the sector is expected.
“It's their decision, nobody can force them, but in the interest of bringing back tourism, bringing back Jamaica, then I suggest that people go out, get the vaccine and be safe. Because you don't want to play Russian roulette with your life. We want a safe Jamaica and that vaccine allows Jamaicans that resistance against the virus,” said Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Clifton Reader.
“It is very important that Jamaicans come out and support the vaccination programme so that we will be attractive to cruise lines coming back, getting people back to work,” Reader added during a press conference in Montego Bay on Saturday morning.
“I know there are several employees from Negril, Montego Bay, and Ocho Rios... there are several employees who signed up and are ready to go. I am extremely encouraged and I know people have certain negatives they are struggling with at the end of the day,” he said.
For his part, Marc Melville, CEO of Chukka Adventures Limited — one of the biggest tourism attraction companies in Jamaica and the Caribbean, argued that while the vaccine is not a panacea it is now the greatest hope for the recovery of the sector.
“The road to recovery is not a silver bullet with the protocols and all the things that the Government has been doing. Our customers are coming back, we are seeing the return of flights; the return of cruising to the Caribbean and Jamaica; the vaccine is one of those crucial components to the recovery of the industry. Don't procrastinate, vaccinate. Do it quickly and let's get back to work,” Melville urged employees.
He said that a number of his team members “are very, very encouraged” by the prospect of being inoculated.
“They are actually very elated. Since July 21st last year we have been operating with the protocols — masks, sanitising — but there is always an underlying stress with the employees...with the team members. It's unexplainable; there is a slight tension of the fear of COVID and I can tell you that since the announcement [of the vaccination programme] it has eased a lot of persons' [concerns].”
Jason Russell, chief executive officer of Pier One, one of Montego Bay's leading restaurants and party venues, also implored stakeholders in the entertainment sector to be vaccinated.
“I am expecting now that there is a vaccine, those promoters, those deejays, those party goers who really want to see party come back will be the first in line because without the vaccination we can't look to party for this year,” Russell stated.
“All of those people who want to have carnival next year, those people who want to have Sumfest this year, and have all the big parties for the summer, they should be the first in line right now,” he argued.
“My staff here we are eager to get back our Friday nights, our Wednesday nights, and all these big happenings. So they are eager to get the vaccination because with crowd comes risk. Protocols could not get the entertainment events restarted, but low and behold the vaccination is here. Get our fan base vaccinated so we can get our entertainment events going again,” he said.
President of the All-Island Craft Traders and Producers Association Melody Haughton encouraged her members to be vaccinated as they eagerly await the return of cruise shipping and an overall rebound of tourism, which has been devastated by the pandemic.
“This is the reason we are happy to jump on, to say to our fellow members 'get on board and get vaccinated so we can return to life' because right now we are almost out. I am encouraging everybody, not only craft traders but everybody in the industry that has kept Jamaica so well, come on out and be vaccinated and enjoy a Jamaica where everybody can come and we don't have to be worrying about the pandemic,” she appealed.
“We were all informed and we were eagerly waiting for it to trickle down to us. We are encouraging our members to get on board,” Haughton said.
Chairman of the Tourism Enhancement Fund Godfrey Dyer agreed.
“We have suffered for nearly a year struggling with tourism. This gives us a chance to bring tourism back and bring it quickly. And if the employees want to be full participants of what is happening, get vaccinated. They are being encouraged and they are responding,” Dyer said.
After Jamaica closed its borders in March last year, most tourism operations ceased operating, resulting in 90 per cent of the 170,000 individuals employed in the sector being sent home.
Approximately 350,000 people in Jamaica depend on tourism for their livelihoods, of which 170,000 benefit from direct employment.