Sandals South Coast Jamaica

Summer target but still no date to reopen Jamaica’s tourism sector — Bartlett

Sandals South Coast Jamaica

Jamaica is working towards reopening to visitors in summer, sometime between June and August, says the island’s Minister of Tourism, Edmund Bartlett.

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett (Photo: JIS)

However, Bartlett, in an interview with Forbes Magazine, said there is no set date as yet.

His interview comes amid ongoing calls from the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) to set a timeline for the planned reopening of the country’s borders to allow tourist arrivals.

“We could end up with another 2 million visitors – somewhere around 50 per cent of last year, if we can have a summer start.”

– Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett

According to Bartlett, the first two months of the 2020 started strongly, with arrivals estimated at 1.25 million tourists, and revenue of US$859 million. At that rate, the island would have closed the year at 4.5 million visitors, contributing US$4 billion to the country’s purse.

However, with the closure of Jamaica’s borders on March 21 to stem the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), tourism receipts have all but dried up, Bartlett said, adding “You can imagine the horror of that moment. That’s a big blow.”

Jewel Runaway Bay, Jamaica. (Photo: Playa Resorts)

The tourism minister told Forbes that the Government is working towards a summer opening but that he is unable to give 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 [patients] in recovery. Our public health team and Minister of Health have done a very good job in terms of containment.”

It is that uncertainty which spurred the JHTA on Friday to release a statement in which it said its airline partners are now looking at their schedules and that, if Jamaica does not provide them with a start-up date, it runs the risk of seeing flights rerouted to other destinations.

Dunn’s River Falls in Ocho Rios, St Ann (Photo: sandals.com)

JHTA president Omar Robinson said “There is no doubt in anyone’s mind of the seriousness of this health-related crisis, we, along with the rest of the world, are living through. But it is now clear that we have at a minimum 18 to 24 months before we can expect a viable vaccine to become available and likely much longer before it is sufficiently distributed worldwide.”

Long-haul travel will be “at the back of the line” when travel resumes as tourists will likely go to destinations closer to home, Bartlett says. “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.”

A swim-up bar at Sandals Montego Bay in St James.

Should the sector reopen in summer, between June and August, Bartlett anticipates that Jamaica could see “20 to 25-30 per cent arrival, and then through the fall, around 20 per cent and pick up strong in the winter to 60 or 70 per cent.

“We could end up with another 2 million visitors – somewhere around 50 per cent of last year, if we can have a summer start.”