Undaunted by a worrying spike in COVID-19 cases in Germany, one of Jamaica's markets for leisure travellers, Director of Tourism Donovan White yesterday remained optimistic that earnings projected for the sector will hold up.
“Germany is a major market of ours and so…we have to continue to watch how this develops,” he told the Jamaica Observer. “This has just come about in terms of a news item over the last 24 to 36 hours. So we are going to continue to watch it.”
On Thursday news broke that Germany's COVID-19 death toll had passed 100,000 and there were more than 75,000 new infections. Efforts by outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday to get a two-week lockdown have so far been resisted by the incoming coalition Government.
A lockdown would cut off the flow of German tourists into Jamaica so the issue is being keenly watched as the European country is expected to contribute significantly to Jamaica's tourism earnings.
Earlier this month, the tourism ministry announced that there had been a 134 per cent increase in bookings volume from the country ranked as Europe's largest economy between September and October, and there were projections for 40,000 airline seats out of that country in summer 2022. The anticipated influx of German visitors would have been included in projections of a faster than expected rebound for the sector.
A few weeks ago, Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association President Clifton Reader revealed that increased demand for the destination meant the sector's “return to normal” would be a full three months earlier than last forecast. The expectation is for the country to earn $3.6 billion from 4.2 million visitors by the last quarter of 2023.
Yesterday, a still optimistic White also shrugged off concerns about the potential impact of a worrying new strain of coronavirus — omicron — whose origins have been traced back to Southern Africa. The tourism industry's foray into new markets, he said, is centred on North Africa at this time.
“We do not see any potential downturns or anything affecting our projections at this time where that market is concerned,” he said. “Obviously, the variants are part of what happens with viruses when they mutate. That's always a risk and we have to continue to watch how this develops. We will take [our cue] from the health professionals and the scientists and we'll act accordingly as we have had to do throughout this pandemic.”
He was also unperturbed about any potential fallout from the Government's defeat in a vote to extend its use of states of emergency as a crime-fighting tool. Crime, he said, has traditionally had a very low impact on the country's tourism sector.
“The impact on tourism from crime is extremely low. Less than 0.01 per cent of tourists are affected by crime in Jamaica,” White noted, adding that he also understood the importance of maintaining peace and safety across the country.
“The enhanced security measures provide a level of control, a level of calmness and allow for greater community involvement. Obviously, from a tourism perspective, tourists go out into the marketplace and go into the communities from time to time in various different resort areas. But we have always maintained and have had the benefit of an extremely low crime rate against tourists in Jamaica. So from that perspective, again, we are going to continue to listen to the professionals and we're going to act accordingly once we get that advice,” he said.