Mark Ricketts | Tourism late in responding to the overseas vaccine market
Until the prime minister’s broadcast on Sunday evening announced major changes to the Disaster Risk Management Act, Jamaican nationals coming home did not have to be tested before boarding a flight. Soon, travellers to the island will have to be tested at least three days before a flight. The test results must be negative.
However, the country is missing out on increased tourist arrivals by not adjusting its protocols to make provision for vaccinated visitors from the US who have the appropriate documentation to prove it.
Since vaccine distribution began in America on December 14, more than 52 million doses have been administered, reaching 11.5 per cent of the population. The country is currently administering 1.6 million shots daily. That number is increasing as better vaccine sourcing and distribution are implemented.
Making allowance for a four-week wait for the second vaccine after December 14, means that from January 14 millions of Americans have got their required dosage. It is disappointing after more than a month the protocols on the Visit Jamaica site have made no provision for the vaccinated individual.
The prime minister’s address to the nation on Sunday did not mention the vaccine’s impact and efficacy in moderating the country’s travel restrictions, yet Bill Gates, in an interview on CNN on Sunday, echoing Dr Faucci’s claim, told Fareed Zakaria how much of a miracle is the vaccine.
US residents who have been vaccinated and who might be quite excited about taking a trip to Jamaica, are advised by the airline, the Visit Jamaica site, and the Jamaica Tourist Board, that: “All residents of the USA who are 12 years of age or over are required to present a negative COVID-19 PCR or antigen test result to check-in for a flight. The date of the test must be 10 days (it will be three days soon) from the travel date to Jamaica.”
Vaccine appears nowhere on the travel authorisation form. The vaccinated visitor from the US has no advantage entering the country. This is short-sighted and should be corrected immediately. Any significant development or arrangement that can improve arrivals, especially from the US, should be instituted forthwith.
With no flights from Canada and England, everything must be done to maximise the potential of our largest market, however weakened that potential is.
Insisting on tests, because some countries in the world have no vaccine, or inadequate amounts, as Minister Bartlett proclaimed on Sunday, makes no sense. Jamaica’s near-term, tourism recovery prospects are not dependent on the world, they are dependent on the US, our largest market for arrivals by a country mile, and one or two other traditional visitor sources, and they have the vaccines. How can the minister ignore this reality, then conclude by saying, “testing is better than vaccine”?
With the US approving Johnson and Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, production will accelerate. Jamaica should now roll out its most effective marketing campaign, luring vaccinated visitors who might have been confined to home an opportunity for renewal and revival. Come on, Mr Bartlett, you have the vision. With hotels and attractions already abiding by well-rehearsed protocols, especially within the resilient corridors, the country’s facilities are ready.
Listening to one vaccinated visitor at the airport making a case for not being tested, then walking away in disgust, I wondered whether this was widespread, or an isolated incident. Whatever, it must be rectified. ‘Every mickle mek a muckle’, and ‘one, one cocoa full basket’.
Why does a test before travel offers more assurance to a country badly needing visitors than vaccines in its largest tourist market? A vaccine is a major breakthrough for arresting COVID, and, so far, has exceeded expectations. Put differently, why is the criterion for entry cast in terms of test versus vaccine, and test is accepted, not vaccine? Both are beneficial to a country needing more visitors.
In the US, a test for COVID-19 given by the pharmacies is free once prescribed by a doctor. However, if needed for travel, the fee is $100. Vaccinations are free. Anyone from the US desirous of coming to Jamaica will have to spend to get tested before boarding a flight. Airlines, such as American with its partner LetsGetChecked, offer a $119, at-home, 48-hour turnaround time test kit. If as a US visitor you can enter the country with a test prior to arrival, you should be allowed entry with a vaccine, which should be also on the authorisation form.
COUNTRY IN PAIN
Tourism has been a major driver of economic activity and employment growth. Unfortunately, when there is double-digit contraction in GDP growth and tourism falters precipitously because of the pandemic, the country is in pain.
That hurt is felt not only in the affected tourism sector, but in the fragile agricultural sector where the linkage has been severed. The loss of a large percentage of the annual four million and more visitors to our island is felt by farmers in the sharp reduction in overall consumption of their chickens, eggs, milk, vegetables, meats and fruits.
When that is combined with the devastation from the country’s annual ritual of drought over some months, a few months of nice weather, and flooding the remaining months, then we should weep and mourn for farmers who “plant the field and scatter the good things on the ground”, only to see their output wither on the vine because of drought, or rot in the fields because of flood, and, in recent months, dumped (or never sown), because of the reduction in consumption, partly due to the severe drop in visitor arrivals. The vaccinated US visitor must be given, immediately, rights of passage.