Despite some optimism, hoteliers still jittery
Director of Tourism Donovan White says that while forward bookings for the winter 2020-2021 tourist season give reason for optimism, there remains a high level of nervousness within a sector still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic fallout.
White, who was addressing the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association’s annual general meeting virtually on Friday, said that by even the most optimistic of projections, the task ahead is still daunting and will require an all-hands-on-deck approach.
“Just to reiterate something Minister Bartlett has been saying … it’s an enormous job that is ahead, because it is a new tourism that is emerging globally. It is going to require a new understanding … indeed … a reimagining of tourism as we know it,” White noted.
He said that since the June 15 reopening of the sector, 61 per cent of hoteliers indicated that they were experiencing occupancy levels of 30 per cent or less, while eight per cent had between 31 per cent and 50 per cent.
“Only five per cent of hoteliers stated an occupancy level higher than 50 per cent, while 26 per cent of hoteliers indicated no bookings,” White added. “It must be pointed out, though, that a lot of that 26 per cent didn’t in fact reopen until September or late August. That, probably more than anything else, might have accounted for them not having any bookings.”
White said that when the calendar year figures are taken into consideration, arrival and earnings figures for 2020 would be down by 67 per cent and 64 per cent, respectively, due in large part to the absence of the cruise ships since March.
“This decline was expected based on all that has been happening,” he added. “Barring the unforeseen, we are expecting a turnaround starting in 2021 and into 2022, where we should be back to full normality. With four months to year end, we are projecting to close 55 per cent below revised forecast. Winter 2020-21 outlook is optimistic based on improved booking pace estimated to deliver US$762m in earnings.”
He said that the main reason for the optimism, however, lies in the fact that airlift commitment continues to increase – usually a good indicator that travellers are waiting to come back.
“We continue to maintain engagement with our tour operators to drive co-op marketing and seat packages,” White added.
“We have recovered airlift out of Ontario and Quebec, while the major airlines are committed to the winter season from the Toronto, Montreal and Calgary markets, giving us a good look from out of Canada. Tour operator and our other partners are also simultaneously running fall/winter campaigns to support package seat sales.”
White further noted that the biggest surprise going forward might be the return of the cruise ships, noting that their absence has resulted in a lot of discomfort, especially among small and medium enterprises.
The tourism director also had high praises for operations on the island’s resilient corridors, pointing out that they have been working well beyond expectations and are currently the main engine behind tourism’s continued recovery.
“When we speak, we do so as one tourism family,” he added. “The past six months have been rough for everybody … lots of pain and hurt. Hopefully we will start to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Tourism is everybody’s business and we all have to do whatever we can to protect it.”