(www.forbes.com) Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, Minister Edmund Bartlett, is an engaging and sought-after speaker at the heart of global discussions around travel and tourism resilience and recovery measures. He recently granted me an exclusive interview for about the world’s transition to a “New Normal” that will define how we all will travel in the future.
Some background about the island of Jamaica: It receives more than 4.3 million visitors every year and as an island nation, resilience is paramount in the destination’s preparedness planning. Working with the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center (GTRCMC) at the University of the West Indies, Minister Bartlett is consulting with travel providers, other destinations and industry organizations globally to shape the emerging post-COVID travel protocols and address traveler concerns regarding health and safety when they do travel again.
The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world. Before the threat of COVID-19, Jamaica’s tourism sector was confidently entering into its tenth consecutive year of growth. Following a record-breaking year in 2019, tourism receipts for January and February indicated that the sector was growing at a rate of 5.2% in 2020. Today the tourist industry is facing a new paradigm, filled with uncertainty and economic challenge.
Q: I understand that tourism to Jamaica was strong in January and February, before COVID. Can you tell me about that?
A: The first two months of the year were strong. We had 5.5% gross tourist arrivals — we brought in 1.25 Million visitors and earned $859 Million dollars. That would have put us on a path to earn $4 Billion by the end of the year. With 4.5 Million visitors. We were doing extremely well. As of March 10 the numbers fell to zero, You can imagine the horror of that moment . That’s a big blow.Q: You have has coined the term “Generation-C” or “GEN-C” as intergenerational, a merging of the demographics the island traditionally targeted and, importantly, one that was essentially ageless. Tell me about this group.
A: This new demographic that has emerged from all the existing demographics of baby boomers, Gen Z and Gen X and millennials – the new profile will be influenced by COVID security requirements and new protocols for originating destinations to ensure the environment is sanitized. Testing will be done to ensure there is no infection on aircraft and cruise ships, and there will be protection mechanisms in the airport, so that the workers in the airport are insulated from infection. When you arrive – a similar arrangement again at the carport with additional checks to ensure the health conditions. Then a whole series of protocols straight to the hotels, and then in the hotels, another set of protocols, social distancing. A new mindset has emerged. Social distancing, wearing of facial covers, and generally, an adjustment in social interaction. Hugging and kissing will have to be redefined. It’s a whole new arrangement of psycho-social architecture that will emerge for a new type of protocol that focuses on health and security. Passengers may have to arrive three hours prior, at the airport. The flow of tourism will be not as bullish as before, from a trickle, as destinations as they become more COVID resilient, and confidence is built on the part of travelers. The issue of destination assurance will be a major consideration for Generation C.
Q: When do you anticipate that Jamaica will reopen?
A: We are working towards a summer opening but I can’t give you an exact date. Our opening is imminent but I don’t have a date as of yet. We are flattening the curve – the rate of death has remained static, thank goodness. We have less than 50 people in hospitals. Over 100 in recovery. Our public health team and Minister of Health have done a very good job in terms of containment.
Q: What are the concerns consumers will have when travel resumes. What assurances will they need to travel again?
A: Travelers will want to know that the destinations are accessible and airlines are connected to these destinations. Long-haul travel will be at the back of the line – and destinations closers to home are likely to see more interest. The Caribbean is definitely one of the preferred areas, and can be seen as domestic travel for Americans. They will want to know that destinations and hotels are outfitted with necessary protocols.
Q: Will social distancing be required at Jamiaica’s beaches?
A: Social distancing will be a feature in the short run. At the hotels, they are making arrangements. Our beaches are pretty wide and extensive – to deal with social distancing may not be a difficult assignment at all. Tourists already know that using our beaches normally involved social distancing, so it’s a matter of rearranging that. For banqueting and buffeting, and for dining, it all can be managed to ensure that visitors have space, and are served by servers – all of that planning will be made to happen, and not inconvenience visitors, and room service and butler service will be available as usual.
Q: What would be your estimation as to tourism statistics by the end of the year?
A: With a summer start we could see 20 to 25-30% arrival, and then through the Fall, around 20% and pick up strong in the winter to 60 or 70%. We could end up with another 2 Million visitors – somewhere around 50% of last year, if we can have a summer start. We are speaking between June and August would be a summer start.
Jamaica has developed a robust protocol to ensure the safety and health safety of all future guests – we have assembled perhaps the most competent task force to develop the recover program. We are working with local and international experts to refine all the protocols, to make Jamaica the most COVID-resilient destination any tourist would want to visit.
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As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, several partners on-island in Jamaica have been stepping it up to help provide relief efforts for especially effected parties. As such, read on to discover the efforts that on-island properties are taking to lessen the impact of the coronavirus epidemic.
Jamaica Inn resort is creating ways for guests and followers to stay connected with signature resort programming of a robust lineup of virtual experiences. Coordinating a series of daily videos and/or live virtual classes to follow on social media, which include cooking classes, mixology demos, yoga sessions, garden tours, glimpses of resident dog Shadow and more, Jamaica Inn is developing an engaging schedule of virtual events that they invite everyone to discover. Viewers can tune in to Jamaica Inn’s Instagram at @thejamaicainn and Facebook here for the content. Please also visit the Jamaica Inn blog.
Fans of Round Hill can experience a range of the resort’s signature programming from the comfort of their own homes through Round Hill’s social media platforms. With a calendar of virtual content and programming in development, Round Hill will offer guests and followers experiences such as chef recipe tips, stretching and working out at home tips, inspiration on kid-friendly activities from the Pineapple Kids Club, interactive Q&As on Instagram Stories, thoughts from Round Hill Ambassador, Kingsley, and more. Viewers are encouraged to tune in to Round Hill’s social media channels to engage with the upcoming content and can visit @roundhillresort on Instagram and Round Hill Hotel & Villas on Facebook, as well as the Round Hill blog at blog.roundhill.com. Round Hill is collaborating with Hanover Charities, which is accepting donations for the resort to gather funds to assist staff during this difficult time.
Jakes Treasure Beach is the first local hotel to offer its 65 rooms for quarantine or isolation purposes for COVID-19 patients, the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) has said. The resort, located in St Elizabeth, will allow the Ministry of Health & Wellness access to its entire property, which includes hotel rooms and villa accommodation, a gesture owner Jason Henzell said was the “right thing to do. We must be our brother’s keeper right now.” The ministry needs some 600 rooms to fight the virus, which has infected some 21 Jamaicans, killing one person in the last two weeks.
Gordon “Butch” Stewart’s Sandals Resorts International (SRI) has offered the Government a 52-room hotel and has helped to finance 40 ventilators at a cost of $20 million to be used to treat COVID-19 patients. The Montego Bay-based Carlisle Inn, once called Baby Sandals, the smallest in the Sandals inventory of hotels, will be used as an incubation center for the west. “The hotel will be at the disposal of the Government for as long as it takes to bring this COVID-19 disease under control,” said SRI Deputy Chairman Adam Stewart. This is a crisis like we have never seen before. Our position is that we are all in this together as tourism stakeholders, as citizens of Jamaica and the world at large.” Sandals has also decided against laying off its permanent workers, opting to pay 40% of their basic salary fortnightly and retain benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation leave despite the temporary closure of all its resorts in the Caribbean.