Mon | May 25, 2020

Bartlett: Tourism tough enough to beat COVID-19 test

Published:Friday | April 10, 2020 | 12:00 AMJanet Silvera - Senior Gleaner Writer
A near-empty arrivals area at the Norman Manley International Airport in Kingston on Sunday, March 15, 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a slump in global travel and tourism.

WESTERN BUREAU:

Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett says he is cautiously optimistic that COVID-19 will subside over the next six months and that normality could return to the sector by December going into January 2021.

“We are in constant dialogue with the market and the consensus is that we have to ready ourselves for the recovery. We have to put plans in place where we are not caught off guard when that day comes ... ,” said Bartlett.

“We also have to remain optimistic, and where confidence can be restored as quickly as possible.”

Bartlett, who was speaking at a digital press briefing on Thursday, acknowledged, however, that while positive predictions could go awry, countries like Jamaica will have to remain proactive in anticipation of a post-COVID-19 era.

Tourism, said Bartlett, was known for its resiliency and an uncanny ability to swiftly rebound, pointing to the 2009 global economic crisis where United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) data showed declines in international tourist arrivals.

“What this means is we are not unaccustomed to global disruptions that have come in various forms – economic recessions, climatic events, terrorism, and pandemics, among others. We are faced with the tough decisions on how we will survive this difficult period, and that means devising strategies to be more resilient,” Bartlett further argued.

“Tourism, like all other sectors globally, is facing an unprecedented time in history as we grapple with the novel COVID-19 pandemic. According to UNWTO data, an expected fall of between 20 and 30 per cent could translate into a decline in international tourism receipts (exports) of between US$300 billion and 450 billion, almost one-third of the US$ 1.5 trillion generated in 2019,” he added.

Bartlett, in the meantime, said the Government is doing its best to support “our” workers, suppliers and businesses that have been at the front line of the sector, “helping us to achieve phenomenal growth” and who have been hit hard by this crisis.

He said that with hotels, attractions and other tourism-related industries closing, the impact of the downturn in business has been devastating to the point where many workers have been displaced and others facing uncertainty.

“As part of our efforts to cushion the negative impact, fiscal arrangements have been developed with the Ministry of Finance that will assist during this difficult time,” the tourism minister added.

“Some of the measures include discussions with commercial banks for them to provide temporary cash flow and support to businesses and consumers in affected sectors through deferral of principal payments, new lines of credit, and other measures.

Bartlett also pointed to the introduction of the COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees programme, which will provide temporary cash transfer sto businesses in targeted sectors based on the number of workers they keep employed, as another key element of the response efforts.

“Additionally, I devised, with my colleague minister of finance, a grant of J$1.2 billion to businesses operating in tourism and related sectors.

As part of the COVID-19 Task Force, we will be driving the implementation of the stimulation package for our tourism stakeholders,” he added.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com