ALL OR NOTHING
Kingston hoteliers demand Resilient Corridor status or tourism bubble popped
WESTERN BURUEAU: Kingston hoteliers want the capital city designated as part of the special corridor or to have the tourism bubble scrapped altogether and for vaccinated visitors to be allowed to fly into Kingston without the red tape that is...
Kingston hoteliers want the capital city designated as part of the special corridor or to have the tourism bubble scrapped altogether and for vaccinated visitors to be allowed to fly into Kingston without the red tape that is reportedly hurting their businesses.
Their concerns come as international traffic to the metropolis is reportedly 60 per cent below pre-COVID 2019 numbers, while Montego Bay, the tourism capital, is 25 per cent short. Kingston’s traffic took a nosedive in March, picked up, and again waned during the last week of August when the Government announced multi-day lockdowns.
Kingston has not recovered since, stakeholders in aviation and the hotel sector told The Gleaner.
Double-vaccinated visitors must quarantine for eight days unless vacationing within Jamaica’s Resilient Corridor created in 2020, a rule that will not change any time soon, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has confirmed.
Unvaccinated visitors must also continue to quarantine for 14 days, the minister said.
Kingston attracts mainly Jamaicans and business people who must undergo PCR testing on arrival at US$150 or stay in their hotel rooms or homes for the period.
Since COVID-19 forced the closure of the island’s borders in March 2020, The Courtleigh Hotel and Knutsford Court have not reopened, while properties such as The Jamaica Pegasus, Spanish Court, and AC Hotel are operational but hurting.
Concerns are heightened as Kingston was named one of three cities in the world as the ‘Best Holiday Destinations for 2022’ for culture travellers by the reputed Condé Nast Traveler. Kingston was selected among the likes of New Orleans, Oslo, Minorca, and the North African country of Egypt.
“I have always felt that Kingston needs to be part of the Resilient Corridor, or have the concept revisited. Kingston is our capital city, our business centre, a UNESCO city of music,” owner of the Spanish Court Hotel, Chris Issa, stated during an interview with The Gleaner.
Appealing to the authorities to add Kingston to the corridor, Issa recommends that the tourism bubble be extended from Milk River to Kingston to Port Antonio, creating a loop for the island.
“If not, drop the Resilient Corridor concept completely,” he said.
And he is getting support from Adam Stewart, chairman of the AC Hotel, who said that as the world’s knowledge of the virus improves daily, and adjustments are made, he looks forward to the next generation of protocols.
“These protocols will be more reflective of the passage of time, as we approach the close of 2021, versus protocols established at the beginning of 2020,” he said.
Stewart, who is also chairman of Sandals Resorts International, spoke glowingly of Kingston being synonymous with Jamaica’s culture and a critical part of the island’s tourism landscape.
“There is absolutely no reason why Kingston should not be included in the Resilient Corridor,” he argued.
Stewart believes that the hospitality sector has efficiently and effectively managed the protocols, citing an average 0.6 per cent infection positivity within the tourism corridor.
Acknowledging that no hotel in Kingston was awash with revenue at this time, Courtleigh Hotel Group’s Kevin Hendrickson is hopeful that bookings will pick up with Jamaica’s improved ranking, to Level III, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last week.
The CDC’s Level Four designation advised visitors against travelling to Jamaica.
“This will make a massive difference, because corporate companies could not take the liability, if something happened to one of their representatives,” said Hendrickson.
Anxious to return to pre-COVID business, the Kingston hotelier said it made no sense at all for vaccinated visitors to be quarantined on arrival in the capital city.
“It makes no sense because you are already travelling through a sterile airport, with a negative test, so why would you need a PCR test on arrival to the destination?” Hendrickson asked.
His question was answered by Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett who said he was aware that the pain levels for the Kingston hotels are a reality, but both health and tourism are working to bring down the infection levels in the Kingston and St Andrew area.
“These objectives can be achieved, of course, with higher vaccination levels and greater compliance with the protocols,” Bartlett said.
Less than 16 per cent of the Jamaican population is fully vaccinated. The country surpassed one million jabs on the weekend, but is among the worst-performing Caribbean nations in per-capita take-up.
The twin parishes of Kingston and St Andrew have accounted for 22,151, or 25 per cent, of the island’s overall 89,681 COVID-19 infections.
Bartlett said that Greater Kingston has been submitted for consideration, but other government stakeholders, such as the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, the Ministry of Health, and the Attorney General’s Department, also have sway.
“We are mindful also that we all have to manage this process together and balance lives with livelihoods,” said Bartlett.
In the meantime, Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton said that any reframing of the concept of the Resilient Corridor must be undertaken by the Ministry of Tourism.
The protocols are assessed in terms of health, said Tufton, and then discussed at Cabinet for a decision.
“I don’t know that that has been raised in a substantial way yet. I am aware that it has been raised, but not substantially,” he said.