Wed | Nov 25, 2020

Tourism rage - Travel agents angry as portal problems driving away foreigners

Published:Friday | September 11, 2020 | 12:16 AMJanet Silvera/Senior Gleaner Writer
Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness.
Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness.

WESTERN BUREAU:

As Jamaica continues to lose millions of dollars to destinations such as Cancun and Riviera Maya, Mexico, some of the country’s top-producing travel agents have accused the Government of rejecting tourists.

The agents, part of the Jamaica Travel Specialist group that boasts more than 8,000 members, vented their frustration on social media Thursday morning, warning that they would not send their clients here until the travel authorisation is done away with.

“The test is no big deal, so the authorisation process is what the determining factor is here. I can’t support a tourism industry that is doing everything they can to delay tourism. It’s pretty clear they are not wanting tourists,” Hannah Cote wrote online on Thursday morning.

Since August, two months after the island reopened its doors for tourism, complaints have not ceased. People who book both flights and accommodation have expressed difficulties getting landing approval here. Families have been separated as the system rejects some members and accepts others.

UNAPPROVED FACILITIES

Responding to the concerns, Dunstan Bryan, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Wellness, blamed the delays on a system dogged by late applications, incorrect antibody tests, and unapproved testing facilities.

“We have had several conversations with stakeholders in the tourism industry. We have tracked the numbers. One of the major reasons, particularly, tourists would have uploaded incorrect information,” said Bryan.

The permanent secretary argued that the portal had a function for reapplying within 48 hours, but reports were emerging of tourists applying on the day of travel.

Bryan conceded that there might be systemic glitches but encouraged applicants to make their submissions within a 48-hour window of travel and not when they arrived at the airport.

However, some stakeholders have rubbished that claim, stating that most of their guests apply at least four or five days in advance because of the record of dysfunctionality affecting the travel authorisation portal.

Destination weddings have become a thing of the past for Jamaica, The Gleaner understands, as travel agents have been moving their business elsewhere.

“Not one of my destination weddings would even consider Jamaica with this problem. All have chosen Cancun or R (Riviera) Maya. That’s hundreds of rooms,” said Joe Lasota of Honeymoon Travel and Destination Weddings.

HURTING TOURISM

Dave Parker of All The Way Travel, one of Jamaica’s top sellers, criticised the travel authorisation system for hurting tourism.

“The problem is that people are doing everything that they are required, and then not getting the approval in time to travel, or having to call, email, or stress out the very last second to get it,” Parker said.

Hotels such as Couples Resorts say they have asked for a dedicated resource for industry professionals to negotiate emergency cases.

“We cannot all be struggling to get through to the same four lines that ring busy all day,” said Alex Thomson-Ghisays, group public relations director.

“Whether it’s a person or handful of people that can expedite applications or troubleshoot issues, they can decide, but this cannot continue,” she lamented.

janet.silvera@gleanerjm.com