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JAMAICA | Jamaicans Remain Cautious about Re-opening of Tourism Economy

  • Written by Calvin G Brown - wiredja.com
  • Published in Tourism
Featured Rick's Cafe Restaurant and bar in West End Negril, Westmoreland Rick's Cafe Restaurant and bar in West End Negril, Westmoreland
MONTEGO BAY, June 21, 2020 - There is continued concern that although Jamaica’s tourist industry represents approximately 30% of the country’s GDP and directly employs some 170,000 workers, the government ought not reopen the tourism sector too speedily, as it may do irreparable harm to the industry and the country’s workers.

According to  the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC) the price  for not reopening the industry, will be the loss of 197.5 million jobs and US$5.5 trillion globally from the sector, based on new research.

The WTTC estimates that more than 30 million jobs will be lost across the Americas, presumably including a good chunk of the 350,000 tourism-related jobs in Jamaica, accompanied by the current loss of US$14 million a day here.

It is estimated that in Jamaica, the overall impact of tourism through its linkages touches 1.2 million of our people, or roughly a third of the population.

Clearly, these are figures no government can ignore, but we must bear in mind that  the economy could  implode at a greater cost if anti-covid travel restrictions and quarantine measures are relaxed before the implementation of a rapid test and trace strategy to help contain the spread of the virus.

We also need to adopt global health and safety protocols to provide assurance to travellers as well as workers in the tourism industry that enhanced health and hygiene measures are in place to guarantee the safety of travellers and industry workers.

Gordon butch stewart 460
Chairman of Sandals Resorts, Gordon "Butch" Stewart

Locally, there is intense pressure from sections of the island’s tourism industry, including monetary inducements of J$500,000  to each of the island’s members of parliament from the Sandals Foundation  for use through the member of parliament's Community Development Fund, CDF.

Concerned Jamaicans warn that a number of US states which contribute to Jamaica’s major tourism market, and which reopened their economies prematurely, are now experiencing record increases in coronavirus hospitalization. These include Florida, Arizona, and Texas which are reporting their highest case numbers yet. As of Saturday, coronavirus cases were climbing in 22 states amid the re-openings.

The warning has ominously been echoed for weeks from epidemiologists, and health officials: Once states begin to reopen, a surge in coronavirus cases will follow.

In spite of this however, prime minister Andrew Holness and tourism minister Edmund Bartlett has announced that with the re-opening of the island’s borders to tourists, some 70 flights are expected to arrive in Jamaica between June 15 and 30, bringing about 5,000 to 6,000 visitors.

wykehammcneillctm 460
Peoples National Party Shadow Minister of Tourism Dr. Wykeham McNeil

The Opposition People’s National Party spokesman on tourism, Dr. Wykeham McNeil is insisting that “all incoming passengers be tested to ensure the protection of our people and safe reopening of our tourism industry.” 

Dr. McNeill in sounding the alarm, said he has been notified that a tourist in the Negril Resort area has tested positive for COVID-19. 

“The individual has since been moved into isolation at a facility in Montego Bay, and the Ministry of Health has assured me that all the contact tracing is currently being conducted and the necessary actions will be taken,” Dr McNeill said.

“I want to ask once again that we revisit the option of pre-testing as some of these cases can be detected before leaving the country of embarkation. As the Member of Parliament, (for Negril) I am imploring everyone to remain vigilant, operate with caution and keep safe during these challenging times,” Dr McNeill said.

This has brought up the question as to whether the government has been totally and transparent in relation to the re-opening of the island to visitors.

An investigative story released by 18 Degrees North TV  said on April 2, nine days after Jamaica closed its borders to incoming passengers to combat the spread of COVID-19,  a Gulfstream G550 aircraft carrying passengers left Miami bound for Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay. The jet was one that’s frequently used by Sandals Resorts chairman, Gordon “Butch” Stewart.

Mariella Discovery 2 460However, according to 18 Degrees North, what was interesting and noteworthy about that trip, was that it was made on the same day that “more than 40 ship workers aboard the Marella Discovery 2 entered Jamaican waters, seeking permission to come ashore, but their own government failed to acknowledge the request.”

“It is not known who disembarked the jet, whether special permission was given and why. But according to a gazetted government order that was being enforced at the time, persons could only enter the country as of March 25 if “authorised by the Minister responsible for immigration, subject to the approval of the Cabinet,” the investigative report by 18 Degrees North TV said.

Because of the government’s failure to respond when a request was made by the Captain of the Marella Discovery 2 to disembark its Jamaican crew amid a global shutdown of the cruise-ship industry, the ship was forced to leave.  

After waiting an entire a day, the ship left without word from the Jamaican government, setting sail for the Dominican Republic, where that country’s authorities allowed its citizens to go ashore.

A scorching backlash from Jamaican civil society and relatives of the ship workers, forced a reply from  Prime Minister Andrew Holness: “The Government always acts in the best interest of the people of Jamaica,” the prime minister said. “There’s no favouritism, no special treatment, and if there has to be any special treatment, that has to be thoroughly deliberated by the Cabinet and made on grounds that can be defended.”

According to 18 Degrees North TV, The ship workers would feel rejected again when the vessel sailed to Portugal and wasn’t allowed entry. They ended up anchored off the coast of Southampton, England, and it would be about a month before Jamaica’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs eventually coordinated their repatriation along with other nationals who had been stranded in the U.K. under a controlled re-entry program.

As the island opens up, not only are the tourists being encouraged to visit Jamaica, but Jamaicans who have been stranded abroad, and those who work on the high seas and in other countries are anxious to return home.

What’s interesting is that while it is mandatory for returning Jamaicans to be tested and quarantined, the visitors have no such requirement, as the standard of proof for their COVID-19 status is somewhat less than what is required of Jamaican citizens.

Sandals G550 Gulfstream Jet 460According to Minister without portfolio in the Ministry of National Security, Senator Matthew Samuda “It is now safe to say that all Jamaicans who wish to come home, can do so. But they must follow the process that we have put in place to safeguard the health of all Jamaicans,” Senator Samuda said today in a comprehensive statement updating the Senate on the re-entry programme.

“It is a matter of public record that the process of reopening our tourism sector is underway with the opening of our borders to non-nationals. Members of the Senate should indeed be proud of the work of the member agencies of the task force, who contend daily with the challenges with the new normal brought on by COVID pandemic,” he stated.

 “We are working assiduously to continue to improve efficiencies, through automation of the varying systems. The process may be lengthy, but it is a robust one that we believe helps to mitigate the risks. The people of Jamaica deserve nothing less to keep them safe,” Senator Samuda noted.

He said that it is important that the process at the ports of entry, sea or air, is the same for all persons entering Jamaica, resident or non-resident, except for persons coming from countries which have been designated as part of the 'travel bubble'.

“The countries in this 'bubble' are the countries that the Ministry of Health and Wellness has assessed to cause very little risk, as they have little to no spread and, generally, very low case numbers in their countries,” he added.

Samuda says all travellers to the island are expected to produce a digital certificate of approval.

“This requirement has been accepted by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and is disseminated to airlines through their Travel Information Manual Automatic (TIMATIC) System. As such, persons are asked by all airlines to provide this approval before they are allowed to check in on any flight in Jamaica,” he said.

To date, 19,312 applications have been received from residents through the JAMCOVID portal and over 2,700 from non-residents through the Visit Jamaica portal.

Tourism Minister Bartlett has emphasised that a return to travel is critical for the global economy, pointing out that across the world, travel and tourism account for 11 per cent of the world’s GDP and create more than 320 million jobs for workers serving 1.4 billion travellers annually.

Last modified onWednesday, 01 July 2020 08:35
  • Countries: Jamaica