MINISTER of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says that the tourism sector, Jamaica's second-largest earner of foreign exchange, ended 2020 with an estimated loss of $76 billion because of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Bartlett linked his prediction to a trend which started and continued through the first 10 months of the year, as the country welcomed just over 1.1 million visitors, a considerable decline compared to the 3.4 million visitors over the same period in 2019.
The minister noted that following a record-breaking year in 2019, tourism receipts for January and February indicated that the sector was growing at a rate of 5.2 per cent at the start of 2020, as the country recorded more than 227,000 stopover arrivals in January, representing a 4.9 per cent increase, or 10,691 additional arrivals, over the 216,509 for the corresponding period in 2019.
“If that trend had held, we would have welcomed more than five million visitors and earned a historic US$5 billion by year-end,” Bartlett said, noting that this was obviously before the global lockdown of the sector that began in March 2020, as the novel coronavirus quickly became a pandemic.
He said that the lockdown ushered in a new paradigm filled with unparalleled uncertainty and disruptions.
“The impact of the tourism decline in Jamaica has been made worse by the fact that other key sources of incomes/revenues, foreign direct investments and remittances were also at risk, given that primary suppliers – the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada – are also facing economic shock,” he pointed out.
“Undiversified economies like ours also mean more pronounced impact for our people, economy and future from prolonged tourism decline,” the minister said.
However, he argued that despite the disruptive effect, the crisis has presented Jamaica with a unique opportunity to craft a new vision for the future of the sector – one which will be built around inclusiveness, safety, security and seamlessness as its defining features.
The tourism ministry reported that last weekend was the biggest for tourism since the entry of the novel coronavirus pandemic, with over 20,000 visitors, bringing the total for the month up to over 100,000 and total visitors since June to 370,000.
An optimistic Bartlett, however, insisted that there could be a significant boost in local tourism early in the new year, if the COVID-19 vaccines are successful and readily available.
“While we originally anticipated that the industry would fully bounce back by 2023 or 2024, based on the return of airlift and cruise passengers, we are now cautiously optimistic that we may be able to see an early significant boost in 2021, if the vaccine is highly successful and becomes readily available,” Bartlett said.
“As we look to the future, we are pleased that a vaccine has been developed and is currently being administered to thousands of health care workers in the US. We intend to make the case for tourism workers, globally, to be considered for early vaccination, so that the sector can quickly recover to continue to fulfil its vital role as a significant catalyst of global economic recovery, and restore employment for more than 120 million people globally,” he said.
He pointed out that, in the meantime, the Government has been prioritising the human side of the pandemic, by providing economic relief through various cash transfer schemes to displaced workers, and they have also been ensuring that tourism workers are using the time to develop competencies for the post-COVID-19 tourism sector.
Since April, the ministry has been providing 11 free online courses for tourism workers, as part of the Government's thrust to ensure the continued development of employees in the sector, he said.
The courses are offered to people who work as laundry attendants, gift room attendants, kitchen steward/porter, public area sanitisation, hospitality team leader, certified banquet servers, certified restaurant servers, ServSafe training in food safety, certified hospitality supervisor, introduction to Spanish, and disc jock (DJ) certification.
He said that throughout the period, Jamaica also emerged as a world leader in developing innovative responses, solutions and systems, that successfully guided the reopening of the sector, locally, and represent the future direction of the tourism sector, globally.
“Our COVID-19 health and safety protocols have gained the endorsement of the World Travel and Tourism Council, and when fully adhered to will make Jamaica one of the most COVID-19-resilient destinations, globally.
The Tourism Industry Post-Covid-19 Protocols were designed to ensure the safety of industry workers, as well as to build confidence among travellers, as they seek to adapt to the “the new normal” of additional health and hygiene practices.
The protocols, which are contained in an 88-page document, cover all segments of the industry, including airports, cruise ports, accommodations, attractions, tourism transportation operators, craft traders, water sports operators, general security and public safety, and mega events.
In addition, he said the concept of Resilient Corridors was developed, to boost the country's ability to manage and trace the movement of tourists along controlled corridors of the island.
“We strategically planned the reopening stages, first requiring travellers to stay on the resort grounds, and then giving them freedom to visit attractions within the Resilient Corridors, using transportation approved by the Tourist Board,” he said.
The Resilient Corridors, which encompass majority of the island's main resort areas, provide the opportunity for visitors to enjoy more of the country's unique offerings, as many COVID-19-compliant attractions located along the corridors are authorised for visits by the health authorities.
He said that the Resilient Corridors will play a key role, as the sector continues on its path to recovery in 2021.