Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Tourism timeline - Stakeholders pressure Gov’t to set date for reopening ports

Published:Saturday | May 23, 2020 | 12:17 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Robinson
Robinson

WESTERN BUREAU:

THE ANDREW Holness administration has come under immense pressure from the powerful and influential Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), which has called for a planned reopening date of the island’s borders for international and local tourism.

In a media release Friday evening, the JHTA argued that the Government must give the nation a clear indication of the timeline for the reopening of the country’s borders. The call follows three months of complete lockdown of the sector and the loss of billions of dollars in revenue since the declaration of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The closure happened at the peak of the winter tourist season in March, and Jamaica will likely miss out on a traditionally strong summer, marked by weddings and returning Jamaicans who would normally vacation here between July and September.

“International airline partners are currently looking at their schedule and if we don’t give them a start-up date, they are likely to reposition their aircraft to other destinations which have indicated their readiness to start up,” lamented JHTA president, Omar Robinson.

‘Living with COVID’

So far, St Lucia and Antigua and Barbuda have announced reopening for June 4, with American Airlines set to fly to those destinations.

Robinson said it was time for Jamaica to begin ‘living with COVID’ until the virus can be eliminated.

“There is no doubt in anyone’s mind of the seriousness of this health-related crisis, we, along with the rest of the world, are living through. But it is now clear that we have at a minimum 18 to 24 months before we can expect a viable vaccine to become available and likely much longer before it is sufficiently distributed worldwide,” he claimed.

The JHTA represents several of the island’s hoteliers, villa and attraction operators, transportation companies and destination management companies (DMCs).

The JHTA said it has been working in close partnership with the Government for the development of strengthened sanitisation and personal health protocols to govern the operations of the businesses in the tourism sector.

“Our accommodations, attractions, transportation, craft traders and others will be required to implement what will be protocols benchmarked against some of the best such standards around the world,” said Robinson. In fact, many tourism businesses have started to implement these protocols, source the requisite PPEs for team members and are in progress to start the training of their team members towards reopening,” he added.

The group says the lockdown has had a devastating impact on close to 300,000 direct and indirect tourism workers locally, who are suffering financially.

Robinson argued that there is also a real possibility that if the uncertainty drags on much longer quite a few of the sector businesses might fail to reopen at all, putting many Jamaicans out of work.

Efforts to get a comment from Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett, proved futile. Calls to his phone went unanswered and questions sent to his WhatsApp did not get a response.

Just over a week ago, Prime Minister Andrew Holness during an interview on CNN’s Quest Means Business said that as critical as the island’s number one foreign exchange earner was, his priority was the health and safety of the Jamaican people and their livelihood.

He stated then that there would be no trade-off between the health and economy of Jamaicans: “I don’t see the two as mutually exclusive. You need healthy people to make the economy work. And a working economy gives you healthy people. So for us, as a government, we are ensuring we balance these two critical areas.”

However, the JHTA said it was cognisant of the fact that not all their businesses have the same resources and capacity, so sector wide readiness would be staggered over weeks to months.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com