Jamaica reopened its borders to international travelers on June 15, the first step to scaling up tourism back to pre-coronavirus levels.
Like many Caribbean islands, Jamaica’s economy is heavily dependent on tourism, accounting for 35% of GDP and 120,000 jobs. The country’s tourism sector saw record breaking growth in 2019, but hopes of repeating that this year was put on hold when the coronavirus pandemic halted travel globally.
As the country once again begins to welcome visitors, it’s with a rigorous and thorough set of protocols in place to protect workers and guests. Jamaica’s Director of Tourism, Donovan White, told Travel Market Report the destination has spent a lot of time over the last two months looking at how to reopen safely.
“There is a tremendous amount of economic dependence on tourism, so we had to find that balance of safety and reopening, White said, adding that required a sharp look at sanitization as a critical part of the new protocols, as well as physical distancing, PPE standards, communication, and using technology to reduce contact.
Jamaica’s mandatory COVID-19 protocols also include having a COVID-19 expert on staff at hotels and other tourism entities. Hotels are also required to have isolation rooms for someone who might contract the virus while they’re there or begin to display symptoms.
White said 20,000 workers in the industry have been trained on how to implement new safety measures.
Before their trip, travelers will have to go Jamica.com to get pre-authorized by completing a Travel Authorization Form. Individuals coming from high-risk countries, such as the U.S., will have to get a COVID-19 PCR test, conducted by public health department, at the airport after going through immigration and customs. They will be notified of the results and isolated if necessary.
During the initial phase of reopening, which will be reviewed by the government in two weeks, tourism will be limited to a “coronavirus-resilient corridor,” stretching along the coast from Negril in the west to Port Antonio in the east.
Hotels and resorts within that zone must be inspected and granted a certification before reopening. About 18 properties have been authorized, according to White, although only about seven are currently open, including the Ocho Rio, Sandals Montego Bay, Beaches Negril, and Moon Palace. It represents a small percentage of Jamaica’s room stock, about 20% during this first phase, White said.
The two-week review intervals “gives us time to implement and adjust, or pull back if need be, depending on the situation,” White said.
Air connectivity is coming back as well. There are six confirmed flights per day to Montego Bay, from New York, Charlotte, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, and Toronto out of Canada.
“There is and has been a tremendous amount of pent up demand that we see,” White said. “People who had July, August, and September still have those bookings in place, and we’ll use that as a marker that gives us a fair guideline.”
In the meantime, the destination has kept in constant communication with the travel advisor community and other partners, through webinars to discuss the destination and its plans. The Jamaica Tourist Board even launched a photo contest for advisors this month.
“Anything that allows us to raise the bar, we are going to be focused on that like a laser.”