The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) says the planned reopening of the island’s borders to international travellers on June 15 is an opportunity for a return to normality for the more than 300,000 workers and businesses that depend on tourism for a living.
As such, the JHTA says it is “extremely pleased” with the development and publication of Jamaica’s COVID-19 Resilient Protocols, which will guide the safe reopening of the sector.
Just over a week ago Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced that Jamaica’s borders, which were closed to all incoming travellers on March 24 following the COVID-19 outbreak in the country, will be reopened to international travellers on June 15.
Holness said the reopening will require arriving travellers to undergo mandatory screening at the airports, where a determination will be made if they should be tested.
“This phased approach will allow both the businesses and the regulators the opportunity to ensure a sustainable implementation of the agreed protocols.”– The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association
The JHTA, in a news release on the weekend, said it had been an active participant over the last three months with the Tourism Recovery Task Force and other stakeholder groups towards a sustainable recovery of the tourism sector.
A comprehensive set of health and safety protocols to guide the reopening of the industry has been produced by the task force and was released last week by the tourism ministry.
The protocols, which have been endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council and won kudos from the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association, mandates all licensed tourism businesses to implement, with great detail, cleaning and sanitation requirements.
Tourism entities are also required to rearrange and make additions for separating structures within their operations for physical distancing as required for staff and visitors.
“We welcome the mandatory use of masks by both staff and visitors and see this as an important barrier against possible infection,” the JHTA said of the protocols.
Noting that the industry is scheduled to open in phases, starting with a Government-defined corridor from Negril in the west to Port Antonio in the east, along with Kingston, the JHTA said it supports the requirement for every tourism business to receive approval from the Tourism Product Development Company Limited (TPDCo) to reopen. This, the JHTA said, will be done on the basis that the business has implemented the established protocols in a satisfactory way.
The association said it takes note of the many comments for and against the reopening of both the borders and the tourism sector. “Not only have similar debates been had within all the stakeholder groups, it has also informed the development of the operating protocols, which mandate some of the strongest safety protocols to protect workers and visitors alike,” the JHTA said.
“The ongoing discussions around pre-testing continue to evolve, and the JHTA anxiously watches and awaits the possible development of a workable mechanism for using such tests as a part of a travel screening regime. In the interim, we believe the current measured approach will strongly assist in mitigating risks,” the association said.
“With the financial devastation being experienced by the over 300,000 tourism workers as well as the businesses that employ them, we know it is now time to get our industry back to work,” the JHTA said.
The association said it accepted that the first phase of the reopening will be slow, with only a few businesses, and the majority will follow in the subsequent phases over the next several months. However, “This phased approach will allow both the businesses and the regulators the opportunity to ensure a sustainable implementation of the agreed protocols,” the JHTA said.
“We do so knowing full well that the entire world is trying to devise a new normal of travel which is safe for its population and the travel community in general. In Jamaica, what we know for sure, though, is if we don’t get back out there, those of us in the industry and across the country will experience untold financial ruin, which may never be undone,” the association insisted, adding that the reopening date is an opportunity for Jamaica to provide its workers and businesses “a pathway to begin the long struggle to return to normality and provide for their families and communities”.
Local tourism analysts have said that the sector, which contributed approximately US$3.7 billion to the economy from 4.3 million arrivals last year, has been losing approximately US$15 million daily since the COVID-19 outbreak in March.