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Closure looms for Jamaica’s tourism as more hotels close

Jamaica’s entire tourism industry is facing imminent closure given the travel restrictions in many source markets and local containment protocols, which have resulted in widespread cancellations.

Jamaica’s entire tourism sector could soon close due to COVID-19. (Photo: visitjamaica.com)

That’s the word from Jamaica’s Tourism Minister, Edmund Bartlett whose admission comes as larger hotel chains and smaller hotels announce closures and staff layoffs. The latest chain to announce that it will stop receiving guests is Decameron All-inclusive Hotels and Resorts.

The hotel will stop receiving guests for a period of two months, effective today, May 20. On Tuesday RIU announced that it would close three of its properties; RIU Palace, RIU Negril and PIU Montego Bay yesterday.

This is a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic forcing reductions in visitor arrivals and flight demand, and the nation’s tourism projections. Some 1,000 workers will be affected by the RIU closures.

On Tuesday, RIU announced that three of its properties on the island will close.

The company said its other operations – RIU Ocho Rios, Palace Tropical Bay and RIU Reggae – on the island will remain open but speculations are that they may also follow suit. Hours after the announcement by RIU, another major resort, Half Moon announced a temporary closure of its Montego Bay property.

Speaking with Caribbean Business Report, Bartlett expressed the hope that the closure of Jamaica’s tourism industry will be short-lived and the recovery programme quick so normalcy can be returned in the shortest possible time. He was quick to make the point that Jamaica is not alone in this regard as many other countries have closed their hotel sector, anticipating brief cessations.

“In fact, the entire world is following that position (closing markets for travel); it is proven that the optimal way to deal with the virus now is to prevent the movement of the vectors from one location to the other,” Bartlett said.

Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett

He disclosed that a regional approach, led by the Caribbean Tourism Organisation (CTO), is being crafted to protect the tourism product from COVID-19. Bartlett pointed out that the Caribbean Hotel and Tourist Association as well as the Global Tourism Reliance and Crisis Management Centre are also playing a role in crafting the approach.

He emphasised that this response has more to do with tourism reliance and how support can be given to the public health efforts to contain and prevent the proliferation of the virus.

According to Bartlett, “It is difficult for CTO or any organisation now to look at any kind of marketing arrangements or any other operational arrangements. CTO doesn’t have the capacity to provide stimulus for the sector at this time but we certainly are advocates.”

Bartlett said a regional approach is being crafted to protect the tourism product.

He said CTO will play a strong advocacy role, particularly for governments of the region to support the recovery programme to “enable the entities that are the drivers of tourism in the region to continue to operate, as they can, but more also to protect their future cash flow and the position of the workers of the industry.”

Turning to Jamaica, he said his ministry is working with the Ministry of Finance and the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) to institute fiscal arrangements to cushion the impact of COVID-19 on workers in the sector.

Based on these new developments, discussions are ongoing among the Ministries of Tourism and Finance and the Public Service, as well as the JHTA to iron out a plan of action to help safeguard all tourism workers over the next several weeks.