There haven’t been a lot of Canadians arriving so far, but Jamaica’s re-opening is going well after a week of open borders.
Speaking with TravelPulse Canada on a Zoom call on Monday, Donovan White, Director of Tourism for the Jamaica Tourist Board, said things have gone well after a couple days of fine-tuning.
“We’re doing things in a safe and responsible way to allow visitors to have their vacations and still enjoy Jamaica,” he said.
There are a number of new rules in place for tourists, White said. One of the most innovative programs, and one that hasn’t received a lot of attention in the travel press, is Jamaica’s so-called COVID-Resilient Corridor, a tourism ribbon that stretches from Negril to Montego Bay and on to Ocho Rios and Port Antonio.
The corridor allows Jamaican authorities to “have a controlled environment within the tourism spaces where our guests can be, so in the event there is an emergency and we have any positive testing we can track and trace those persons relatively quickly and efficiently.”
White said only hotels and resorts that are certified by health authorities have been allowed to re-open in this phase, and that hotels in the corridor are all on the beach side of the highway. Roads on the other side of the highway, which usually lead to smaller towns and villages, aren’t open for tourists.
“Only accommodations within this corridor are allowed to be open” in Jamaica’s first phase of reopening, he said.
White said all travellers to Jamaica have to complete what’s called a Travel Authorization Form before they arrive. Once they land, health screeners meet visitors to talk about their health, go over their Travel Authorization Form and determine if they have any symptoms. Passengers then go to have their passports stamped at immigration before proceeding to baggage claim. More health workers are at the baggage claim area to chat with visitors about where they’re staying. Anyone not staying within the dedicated corridor can download the Jamaica COVID-19 tracking app, White said.
After baggage claim and customs, all arriving visitors have to undergo a nasal swab for COVID-19. Results come within 24 to 48 hours, during which guests are expected to stay at their hotel or other accommodation.
“Hotels have implemented very good, very rigid standards when it comes to room sanitization and social distancing,” White said. Rooms are deep cleaned, and hotel doors are sealed after cleaning, among other protocols.
If tests come back negative, visitors to the island can explore places within the designated corridor. But it’s pretty much just the hotels that are open. White said attractions and restaurants are still closed in this phase of Jamaica’s re-opening.
If a visitor tests positive for the coronavirus, they’re immediately isolated in a special hotel room and given medical attention around the clock. If necessary, patients can be transferred to medical facilities or a hospital.
Hotels are paying for the medical costs of arriving guests at this point, but White said a new health care program for visitors could be announced soon.
Right now, the only flights from Canada are twice-a-week routes from Toronto to Kingston, although he expects AC will bring back a flight to Montego Bay in the coming month or so. There are some tourists, but most passengers are returning Jamaicans or folks visiting family or loved ones, White said. He also said major US airlines are flying to Jamaica, including American, Delta and JetBlue.
“Once Canadian authorities lift some of the restrictions on folks returning to Canada, we expect some demand to return,” White said. He agreed that major influxes of tourists likely won’t take place until the fall, when the weather cools in North America.
White said Jamaica didn’t expect a flood of international visitors to begin immediately when restrictions were lifted on June 15.
“The number one challenge we wanted to overcome is to begin to put people back to work, and to begin to use the opportunity to restart our largest industry. The tourism industry employs more than 350,000 workers, and over 90% would have lost their jobs or been furloughed during COVID-19.”
White said there have been roughly 657 cases of COVID-19 in Jamaica and just 10 deaths. In a country with 2.9 million people that’s remarkable. Toronto has almost the same population and has had more than 1,000 deaths.
“The Caribbean is one of the regions of the world that has done extremely well,” White explained. “In fact, in Jamaica I’d like to take the opportunity to really laud our frontline health workers and our health ministry for really putting in a rigid risk management approach to managing the virus and being able to contain and trace cases and being able to manage outbreaks, small outbreaks, very rapidly.”
It was that strong performance that allowed Jamaica to keep deaths to a minimum and allow them to re-open the borders this month.
So far, the re-opening has gone well.
“It’s still early days. We’re not expecting a V-shaped recovery by any stretch of the imagination.”
White said experts believe it will take Jamaica 18 to 24 months or a little longer before it can reach pre-COVID-19 arrival numbers.
“We’re looking at maybe the second quarter of 2023,” he said.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.