By Michael Jarvis, UK Correspondent
Jamaica is bucking the trend and showing encouraging results from its key tourism industry despite suffering setbacks from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Appearing on the top-rated UK business programme, Ian King Live on Sky News, Jamaica’s tourism minister Ed Bartlett said the country is anticipating a continued strong rebound from the pandemic.
Reporting that air arrivals are already at 60 per cent of the 2019 level, Mr Bartlett said: “We are expecting that by the end of (20)23 to be back to 2019 levels and then go beyond that into reaching the target we had set ourselves for 5 million visitors and to earn 5 billion dollars.”
The country’s cruise return strategy is also well underway for the sector that has been among those hardest by the outbreak of the pandemic.
Numerous cruise lines had been forced to curtail operations under the perception of being ‘petri-dishes’ where the COVID-19 virus flourished in several high profile incidents.
But the Jamaican tourism minister said they have put a rigorous strategy in place to minimise the risk of any cruise-related outbreak in Jamaica which is already battling large numbers of COVID cases.
With the country’s economy taking a battering due to the pandemic Mr Bartlett told Sky’s Ian King that getting tourism up and running safely again for both visitors and residents is key and that includes the cruise sector.
“The cruise market has responded, not as strongly as the air (arrivals) of course, but the fact is that it has returned and it has returned with jobs,” he stated.
“Immediately as the ship docks, the dollar flows into the hands of the ordinary man and that’s the power I think of cruise tourism. It does provide, I believe, the fastest way of transferring wealth..because the jobs that are required are pretty much basic and that’s important. It touches the lives of the ordinary person and that’s critical in terms of wellbeing, especially of small communities,” Mr Bartlett explained.
Like Jamaica, many Caribbean destinations have been investing in luring cruise lines back to the their ports, while others like the Cayman islands have been more cautious.
The cruise lines have also been aggressively doing their own promotions.
The main challenge for cruise destinations especially has been how strict to make their individual national COVID protocols at a time when the Omicron variant is still surging.
This is resulting in illnesses (though less severe than previous variants) but more significantly forcing huge swathes of the workforce into isolation for either testing positive or coming into contact with others who have contracted the virus.
According to Mr Bartlett, the system which Jamaica has put in place, especially to manage its cruise visits, is robust and has been working to the benefit of the cruise lines and the country.
“We are excited that cruise is back,” he said, but admitted “it is highly challenged.”
Noting that “cruise represents an ecosystem that is susceptible to any kind of shocks”, tourism minister Bartlett said that the pandemic represents “a huge challenge” for the sector - both the cruise lines, their passengers and the destinations they visit.
Jamaica still has a curfew in place as part of a package of measures it has deployed to fight back against COVID-19.
Mr Bartlett outlined that parallel to that the country has created a special transit “corridor” for cruise visitors among other steps to safeguard both visitors and residents.
He described it as “a bubble that enables the visitors to enjoy the full extent of the experiences that they seek while preventing them from becoming involved in wider community activities.”
That falls under the Jamaica Cares Programme, Mr Bartlett told Ian King Live, which he said “provides an end-to-end security arrangement for the protection of the visitors and of our locals.”
Calling their protocols “enviable”, the Jamaica tourism minister said the strategy has been recognised by the World Travel and Tourism Council, earning his country the organisation’s ‘safe travel approval’, becoming only the third country to have earned that accolade as global efforts to revive the global tourism industry continue.
27 Jan, 2020
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