Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Tourism stakeholders warn against closing borders

Published:Monday | September 7, 2020 | 12:07 AMCarl Gilchrist/Gleaner Writer
Craft items for sale  in Ocho Rios.
Craft items for sale in Ocho Rios.

Warning of dire consequences, tourism stakeholders in the island’s resort towns are cautioning the new Government against closing down the borders as a result of the uptick in coronavirus cases.

Jamaica has seen a steep increase in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks, giving rise to fears that the Government will reimpose a lockdown of the country as it did in March, before reopening in June.

In a release on Saturday night, the stakeholder group, which includes sectors such as craft, transport, hotels, destination management, attractions, among others, said while they understand the health concerns and the reasoning behind the closing of borders in the first instance, reverting to such a position at this time is not the answer.

“We are truly hoping that the closing of the borders is not being contemplated, as craft traders cannot afford another round of that,” declared Devon Mitchell, president of the Ocho Rios Craft Association. “What we have been going through since the lockdown, and even with the reopening of the borders back in June, things have not been pretty, and we have been looking for some kind of reprieve and are being optimistic, overly optimistic some might say.”

WORKABLE PROTOCOLS

“What we are not looking forward to is to go back to where we are coming from, which would be just like walking to the gallows. We are saying to the new Government, you have some workable protocols in place, so let them work. Do not close the borders again, we are pleading with you,” Mitchell added.

But while Mitchell and his craft members have been making their case, nowhere is the cry louder than with transport operators who say they are fearful that another shutdown would not only impact greatly on their ability to make a living, but could also further endanger their relationships with creditors, including mortgage companies and other lending agencies.

Simon Lawrence, president of the Jamaica Union of Travellers Association (JUTA) Montego Bay chapter, said while members understand the health situation and the reason behind the initial closing down, the transport sector cannot afford a lockdown.

“The last time we closed down our borders to overseas visitors, my members have still not recovered,” Lawrence stated. “We are talking about drivers with their mortgages, with their bus loans and other obligations to financial institutions. Without the tourists we cannot see our way, and another lockdown would be another crippling blow.”

Lawrence said that JUTA drivers are hoping the new Government will carefully analyse the numbers, where they would see that the prescribed areas for tourists, the resilient corridors, are not being affected by the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, a senior director at the Royal Shop chain of duty-free stores, Ravi Daswani, said that the industry has no choice but to speak with one voice as to its position in not wanting to see the borders close again.

CONCERNED

“I hope nobody will misconstrue our position to think that we are not for health and safety guidelines, or that we are not perturbed by the growing number of COVID-19 cases,” he noted. “We are very concerned, but we believe it is also important that we work with the protocols we have in place.”

President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association, Omar Robinson, in the meantime, expressed confidence that the Government will do the right thing to ensure that “Jamaica’s number one earner continues to perform”.

He said that while he expects stricter measures to be put in place as it relates to health and safety protocols, “we are hopeful we will all be on the same page in the interest of tourism”.

In June, the Government established a COVID-19 resilient corridor for tourists, stretching from Negril in Westmoreland to Port Antonio, Portland, with tourism entities being trained and certified in COVID-19 protocols.

During the week of August 28 to September 4, Jamaica recorded 1,021 new COVID-19 cases. COVID-19 statistics are released daily by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. So far, there has been no report of COVID-19 case affecting any tourism entity.