Thu | Jul 2, 2020

Holness under tourism pressure

Published:Tuesday | May 26, 2020 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke and Romario Scott/Gleaner Writers
Prime Minister Andrew Holness (right) and Opposition Leader Dr Peter Phillips paint the base of the statue of National Hero Norman Manley on the periphery of the St William Grant Park in downtown Kingston at the national Labour Day project yesterday.

DAYS AFTER tourism advocates called for the Holness administration to declare a timeline for the resumption of incoming air and sea travel, Jamaica’s most powerful private-sctor lobby has added pressure for a clear road map towards a “date for a safe and sustainable reopening”.

Keith Duncan, president of the Private Sector Organisation of Jamaica (PSOJ), yesterday demanded certainty in the wake of a downturn in tourism that has sparked collapsing fortunes in linkage industries such as agriculture, distribution, manufacturing, and the micro, small, and medium enterprise sector.

Citing a “significant contraction in business”, Duncan pressed for “Jamaica’s tourism industry to get up and running in the shortest possible time”.

Jamaica’s tourism and hospitality sector is estimated to have haemorrhaged 300,000 direct and indirect jobs since the outbreak of COVID-19 here in March, and the island’s economy is forecast to contract by more than five per cent, although some analysts put the loss at as much as 10 per cent.

The PSOJ acknowledged that many countries across the globe, including Jamaica, were all grappling with the challenge of when and how to open their borders.

“The Ministry of Tourism and the Government, along with tourism interests, have been developing protocols for the sector, dialoguing with the airlines and the tour operators. We are encouraged by the significant bookings coming in from those who would like to make it Jamaica for their vacation,” said Duncan.

Among those countries seeking the right formula for the reopening of their economies is St Lucia, whose government has decided to reopen to tourists on June 4. But St Lucia has had just 18 COVID-19 cases and no deaths.

Jamaica, on the other hand, has recorded 556 coronavirus infections, with 238 recoveries. Nine persons have died.

Duncan’s call appears to be a calculated move to increase the crescendo, less than 72 hours after a demand by the Omar Robinson-led Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), on Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

But although the JHTA has backed the pretesting of tourists, neither the tourism lobby nor the PSOJ has clearly said whether there should be a blanket opening to countries which are epicentres of the coronavirus crisis, with Europe and North America accounting for 287,000 deaths and millions of infections.

It is also not clear whether the hoteliers are rolling out the red carpet to South America, with Brazil, Peru, Chile and Ecuador tallying hundreds of thousands of cases and growing.

Meanwhile, as Jamaica anticipates the mass return of employees to physical workspaces, Holness is insisting that the country must claw back lost productivity from COVID-19 containment measures.

“We must go back to work, we must go back to securing our income,” Holness said yesterday while at the St William Grant Park in Kingston, the site of the national Labour Day project.

Over the past two weeks, the prime minister has been pushing for the “reopening” of the economy, including the tourism sector. The prime minister has used that term cautiously because Jamaica has not implemented the wide-scale lockdowns that have been imposed throughout much of Europe and North America.

Holness has, however, not given specifics on the reinvigoration of the economy, although several task forces are set to complete their deliberations on protocols to govern sectors during the pandemic.

“We are putting in place all the measures, and with your cooperation and with your faithful keeping of the protocols, we will overcome this pandemic. We will recover our lost productivity and we will be a stronger economy and society,” the prime minister said.

“There are things that we should have been doing, there are thing that we should – many years ago – have done in done in terms of the reconfiguration of how we work, the flexiwork … .

“Those are the things we should have been pushing a long time ago because much of the work that we are doing in offices, some of them can be done at home,” Holness reasoned, disclosing that a third of workers in the business processing outsourcing sector are working from home.

Come June 1, employees who have been working from home since March as part of measures to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) will be allowed to return to work.

“We have to survive the pandemic, but we also have to survive the recession ... two imperatives. We have to work and we have to work safely,” Holness said.

Meanwhile, Holness is to convene a virtual meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council this week ahead of the start of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season.

The season begins on June 1.

Last week, the Meteorological Service urged Jamaicans to make adequate preparations for the hurricane season. The agency’s director, Evan Thompson, said that forecasts have shown projections of an above-normal season this year, with up to 16 storms expected to develop.