COLD SHOULDER - Tourism interests back Gov’t ban on arrivals from UK
As Jamaica closed its borders to United Kingdom flights on Monday, the country’s largest lobby of hoteliers and tour operators has thrown its weight behind the Holness administration’s decision to shut out British travellers amid the emergence of an ultra-contagious strain of the coronavirus that marked the territory as the sick man of Europe.
The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), whose members stand to benefit most from UK tourist arrivals to the island, acknowledged on Monday that the Government was obligated to protect its citizens from a variant of the coronavirus that was still an unknown entity globally.
The travel ban, introduced Monday, will last for two weeks, ending January 4, 2021. However, a flight that came into the country Monday evening and outbound flights will be allowed up to midnight Tuesday night.
Both British Airways (BA) and Virgin Atlantic, with twice-weekly and thrice-weekly flights into the Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay, have suspended service until further notice.
Later on Tuesday, Virgin Atlantic will operate a repatriation flight for British nationals who are already on the island. The same flight will also transport cargo.
The more than 200 passengers who were booked to arrive on the island on the aircraft have all cancelled.
In the case of British Airways, it, too, is hoping to operate a freighter, country manager Diane Corrie told The Gleaner Monday night.
Corrie revealed that, currently, the loads for flights going north was not significant. The busy period would have started the latter part of this week, as British citizens of Jamaican background visit family and friends.
On average, more than 300 passengers were expected on each BA flight.
Corrie would not disclose the flight numbers.
The ban will negatively impact what was expected to be the commencement of recovery of a market severely damaged by COVID-19, which JHTA President Clifton Reader said was aimed at reviving the sector. He said, however, that the revival of tourism should not be at the expense of the health of families, employees, and communities.
“Any reduction in air traffic to Jamaica will affect the country in myriad ways - commerce, tourism, social/cultural interchanges. Whether it is Jamaicans travelling back and forth, business persons or visitors to Jamaica, closure of borders will reduce the numbers of persons having access to the island,” Reader told The Gleaner Monday morning.
The UK supplies a considerable volume of guests to Jamaican hotels and the island also enjoys a robust visiting friends and relatives (VFR) stream of guests - persons with roots on the island who visit regularly and may stay at a hotel or split their time between hotels and home stays, Reader said.
“We also have good traffic from tourists who stay at our resorts, including European Plan (EP), all-inclusives, and villa accommodations. Uniquely, visitors from UK markets spend longer than other guests, an average of three to four weeks, on island,” he concluded.
British High Commissioner Asif Ahmad, who recently made a call for more Jamaican merchants to use British flights to ship cargo to the UK, said that a ban was entirely within the remit of the Jamaican Government.
“The measures adopted by other countries are for them to decide. What we know about the pandemic is that it does not recognise nationality or borders. The virus will mutate wherever there is community spread,” he told The Gleaner.
Ahmad posited that the UK took decisive action once its scientific advisers were alerted to the mutation of the coronavirus, which is more infectious, carries a higher viral load, and has a greater impact on younger people.
Although reportedly not more fatal than the earlier variant of COVID-19, Ahmad said that experts believe that the vaccines in use and those close to approval would be effective against the full range of coronaviruses.
Up to press time, it was not immediately clear how thousands of Britons will get home.
In March when Jamaica was forced to close its borders owing to the COVID-19 outbreak, tour operators, hotels and passengers were able to make their own arrangements for accommodation until they were able to leave Jamaica, the high commissioner told The Gleaner.
He stated, however, that the commission would continue to monitor the situation.
In the meantime, TUI, the largest tour operator providing airlift from the UK to Jamaica, is set to resume service in January 2021.TUI operates weekly service from Manchester, Gatwick, and Birmingham.