Jamaica’s Opposition leader calls for tourists to be fully ‘vaxxed’

A call for all visitors to be fully vaccinated before they can gain entry to the island’s shore could possibly benefit or deepen the fallout in the local tourism sector, which has already taken a severe beating since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus pandemic last year.

The suggestion made by Opposition Leader Mark Golding, in an address to the nation on Tuesday last, was among a slew of other measures he proposed to help curb the latest surge in the number of cases and deaths from the highly contagious virus.

However, the country’s tourism sector only recently started to recover following significant contractions due to the outbreak of the virus last year, and these suggestions could put the Jamaica in a position in which demand for tourism becomes highly dependent on the preference of travellers.

The I Love Montego Bay sign sits outside the Sangster International Airport in St James, Jamaica (Photo: Jamaica Stock Exchange)

The Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) last week reported that the economy expanded by some 12.9 per cent during the April-June quarter. Following a 330.7 per cent growth in the hotel and restaurant sector when compared to zero last year when the country’s borders were closed, Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett believes the tourism sector contributed heavily to this increase in output.

With tourism accounting for a large portion of the regional economy, a position taken by countries regarding vaccination and travel could either positively or negatively impact these industries.

Travel statistics are so far indicating that the relative strictness or leniency of entrance requirements in some Caribbean countries are already reshaping travel trends in the region. Preliminary data suggest that unvaccinated travellers were largely gravitating to the islands that will let them in, while the vaccinated want places that keep the unvaccinated out. The general pattern, however, was that people had more interest in travelling to territories where vaccination protocols were in place, while interest in others without decreased.

So far, several countries across the region including Trinidad and Tobago, Cayman Islands [during the third phase of its reopening exercise], Anguilla, Turks and Caicos, St Vincent and the Grenadines, among others, have announced mandatory vaccination policies, citing safety as the main reason behind the decisions. Following these announcements, travel interest to most of these territories were said to have also increased with data reflecting growth ranging between 25 per cent and 60 per cent.

Carnival’s Elation berths near this white sand beach destination in Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos Islands. The British Overseas territory has mandated that all tourists entering its borders get vaccinated prior to travel. (Photo: Andy Newman/Carnival Cruise Lines)

Efforts to ascertain if Jamaica would tighten vaccination policies for visitors proved futile. Caribbean Business Report made contact with Jamaica’s tourism minister about the matter; however, a response was not provided before press time.

The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) in a recent assessment projected a 75 per cent reduction in tourism to countries with low vaccination rate and 37 per cent reduction in those with relatively higher rates. Jamaica currently has vaccinated over 500,000 of its citizens, with about 145,000 fully vaccinated and the rest receiving only a single dose and awaiting their second shot.

The Government originally said it is pushing to get to herd immunity by vaccinating at least 65 per cent of the population by March of next year. Prime Minister Andrew Holness, however, said on Wednesday that the Delta variant of the coronavirus has pushed the consideration to get all Jamaicans vaccinated. Holness didn’t give a timeline for that endeavour.