Already faced with billions of dollars in losses as a result of COVID-19, Jamaica’s tourism ministry has begun planning the reopening of its industry in order to help save the county’s economy.
Like many ministers of the Jamaican government, Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett has accepted that the coronavirus (COVID-19) may very well be around for months to come, and thus, the focus has shifted to the reopening of the economy, safely.
Minister Bartlett said the protocol for the reopening of the industry is almost completed and will be rolled out shortly.
“It entails a whole range of responses that the workers of the industry will have to make and also quite a bit of infrastructure adjustment that the hotels will have to make, as well as the transportation subsector,” Mr. Bartlett said.
“It will also involve some changes at the airports and the seaports. So, it’s a pretty comprehensive set of protocols covering all points of entry, as well as the experience of the visitor within the destination,” he added.
Other focus areas, he said, include “certification requirements for guests coming in at the airports… the use of beaches, swimming pools and things like that”.
Although the Minister has already began establishing the reopening protocol, the tourism industry will not see a reopening for weeks. Many Jamaican hotels are still being used as quarantine facilities for locals and also house Jamaican nationals that are expected to return to the island under the controlled re-entry program.
The shutdown of many of the island’s hotels and tourist attractions have crippled the industry. In April, the minister revealed that of the 160,000 people that work in Jamaica’s tourism industry, 120,000 of those workers had already been laid off. The remaining 40,000 people were only working for a few days a week, for a fraction of their normal pay.
Bartlett said that COVID-19 was the improbable event that no one could have predicted.
He revealed that when he went to the airport in March, prior to the island closing its borders, and saw that there were zero arrivals, “it was a shock of the recognition that COVID-19 had in fact arrived and affected travel tourism in a very profound way”.
“We have always thought that travel and tourism could be affected but never halted, and now we have come face to face with that reality,” Bartlett said.
Prior to COVID-19, the ministry had projected that Jamaica would earn over USD $4.4 billion this year. In recent years, Jamaica’s tourism industry has seen significant annual growth and was on track to become “the fastest-growing sector in Jamaica”, according to Bartlett.
In 2018, Jamaica welcomed over 4 million visitors, generated over USD $3 billion in revenue and contributed to 11% of the island’s gross domestic product (GDP). In 2019, earnings were estimated at USD 3.7 billion as a result of new accommodations, like the AC Hotel and Ocean Coral Spring Hotel, being open.
Minister Bartlett, however, said that he believes the tourism industry could begin to recover as early as September. But even if tourist travel does return to normal then, the damage has already been done. The cancellation of major events like Reggae Sumfest, which recorded over JMD $1 billion in earnings last year, has already put a damper on travel to the island for the remainder of the year. Local economists have predicted that tourism revenue could fall short of up to USD $3 billion because of COVID-19.
And while the minister remains hopeful for a speedy recovery, the fact remains that Jamaica will not see a tourism recovery until the United States and the United Kingdom return to normalcy.