Donovan White, director of tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board, explains how the Caribbean island has safeguarded tourism as it reopens its borders
It has undoubtedly been a challenging year for the travel industry globally, and Jamaica was no exception as travel ground to halt in March and holidays to our beautiful island were put on pause due to the coronavirus.
We are now in July and, while every country around the world will have a long way to go before tourism numbers return to close to normal in the coming years, I have never been more proud of everyone working in the Jamaican tourist industry than I am today. On June 15, as a result of the extensive protocols that we have introduced, we reopened our international borders and began welcoming visitors to our vibrant country once again, thanks to the hard work and determination of so many.
Up to June 25, Jamaica saw 659 cases of coronavirus and very sadly, 10 deaths. Due to the incredible work of our health care service and government response we have acted quickly and effectively to ensure that many more were not affected by the virus. In Jamaica as many as 350,000 people are employed by the tourism sector, around a third of the total workforce. It has therefore been imperative that as a country we support the tourist industry as much as possible and reopen as soon as we deem it safe and responsible to do so.
As part of our strategy for reopening, during the earlier period of the pandemic, with many tourism workers on furlough, our priority was to protect as many jobs as possible. We therefore launched a series of online training programmes and certification courses that have been rolled out. To date we have had over 8,000 of our tourism workers registering for the course Our training programme has been implemented to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic so that, as we begin to emerge, our staff are fully trained in health and safety procedures and protocols. This will help to ensure that Jamaica is recognised as one of the most prepared and committed destinations when it comes to both staff and visitor health in a post-Covid-19 world.
With training for the ‘new normal’ firmly in place, I am pleased that we were able to reopen our borders on June 15. New, robust measures have been put in place to ensure the safety of residents and visitors. Every traveller must complete an online travel authorisation form. The process takes approximately five minutes and is very simple – with a response provided almost immediately. This authorisation is required upon check-in for a flight, and it cannot be completed more than 72 hours before departure to ensure the data is as up to date as possible. Once travellers arrive in Jamaica, healthcare professionals greet all arriving passengers in the airport and carry out face-to-face interviews. All visitors from countries where there is high community transmission of the virus, including the US and the UK, will be tested in the airport. Once through the airport, guests will be able to travel to their accommodation in the ‘resilient corridor,’ an area along the north coast of the island that is reopening to tourism and has been thoroughly reviewed to ensure the health measures are in place at hotels and resorts. All guests will be required to remain in resort until the results of the test are available – usually within 48 hours.
In spite of the opening, we of course proceed with caution, reviewing our processes and protocols regularly, with health remaining the number one priority for Jamaicans and visitors. In the longer-term, I foresee a gradual re-emergence of the hospitality sector, as holidaymakers become accustomed to the ‘new normal’. We have reopened from an aviation perspective to many of our key markets, with both airports now operational; and are very much looking forward to welcoming holidaymakers from the UK once the FCO advice is amended to allow Brits to travel. In the meantime, as we look forward to the return of direct flights from the UK specifically, our JTB team in the UK has been committed to supporting its valued agent partners and stakeholders through online training webinars, quizzes, virtual fam trips and fam trip incentives. I encourage all UK agents to reach out the amazing team for the latest destination updates. We are keen to support you so that you are in the best position to support us when it comes to welcoming visitors in a post-lockdown world.
It is a long journey ahead, but tourism is a resilient business and we are a resilient nation – if we continue to do the right things, and do them properly by working together with our travel industry partners, we will be in a strong position in terms of tourism recovery.
The July 2020 issue of ABTA Magazine is out now. In this issue, we consider the impact of two recent government announcements: the reopening of the hospitality sector and the proposed formation of ‘air bridges’. With these policies likely to encourage Britons to travel domestically and to select European countries, can we finally see the green shoots of recovery? Nathaniel Cramp explores Cornwall’s lesser-known beauty spots; Jenny Southan of Globetrender shares her insights into travel in the age of Covid-19; while, the Jamaican tourism board tell us the story of the country’s reopening. Click on the cover to read the magazine in full.