JAMAICA READY TO PLAY BALL

It was only fitting that the Jamaica Tourist Board’s Toronto tourism blitz last week concluded with a box for some select friends at a Blue Jays game. After all, though the Jays were soon to be headed home after their penultimate game of the season, the Caribbean nation is merely rounding first and heading for second as tourism begins to return from its pandemic pause.

JTB’s director of tourism, Donovan White, told Travel Industry Today that it was only natural for the tourist board team, which included tourism minister Edmund Bartlett, to come to Canada, the island’s second largest source market (after the US), as soon as they could after the border re-opened to international visitors.

“We haven’t had a chance to see our tourism partners in person, face to face (since the start of the pandemic), so it was extremely important for us to do that,” he said.

“Tourism is a people business, we understand that very well; and the more we’re able to have these first impressions on our partners, it will be able to help to deliver confidence…”

During the multi-day mission, the JTB team met with travel agents, tour operators, airlines and the media to build on the confidence he says Canada is showing in Jamaica, not least through the strong level of air seat capacity available this winter through returning airlines – Air Canada, WestJet, Transat, Sunwing, and Swoop, flying from multiple gateways, including Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Edmonton, St John, Ottawa, and Moncton.

Moreover, White says 265,000 seats are already committed across the carriers, compared to 305,000 in 2019, which translates to about 82% of that previous capacity – a statistic that under the circumstances he considers “amazing,” and to which attributes the confidence of Jamaica’s partners in Canada and the ongoing work of the JTB office here.

Donovan White

He further credits the success of Jamaica’s “resilience corridors” in providing a safe haven for visitors to Jamaica with less than one percent positivity rates for COVID-19 – another “phenomenal” stat in light of Jamaica’s 1.4 million visitors since re-opening its borders in June 2020.

(Earlier this month, the government also launched a vaccination drive to facilitate administration of the vaccines island-wide with a series of voluntary vaccination blitzes at strategic sites across the country. This drive is an extension of the “Jamaica Cares” program, a nationwide response to COVID-19 that includes the resilient corridors and other comprehensive health and safety protocols.)

White adds that tour operators in this country are reporting a “positive trajectory” on bookings (currently reaching 65% of 2019 levels), and that Jamaica will continue to offer support and marketing in Canada “to drive the consumer to them.”

One aspect of the JTB’s ongoing efforts are plans to stage its annual JAPEX trade show in person in early November, albeit with a hybrid component to allow for people who can’t make it to the Montego Bay Convention Centre.

The JTB has also begun to invite trade partners in limited numbers back to the island to “touch and feel it for themselves.”

As for Canadians travelling to Jamaica, White says current protocols are not limited to fully vaccinated persons, but a negative COVID test (PCR or antigen) is a must, as is completion of a pre-travel authorization form that can be found on the visitjamaica.com website.

And with no quarantines in place (unless positive) or arrival testing, “you’re ready to be on your way to the beach immediately.”

White also notes that 90% of Jamaica’s tourism assets are located within the resilient corridor and that tourists are free to move around within that zone, where they will have “a very normal experience. The only difference you’re likely to notice from two years ago is people wearing masks.”

For anyone that does test positive in Jamaica, hotels are equipped with isolation rooms and care needs. The hotels will also help arrange PCRs tests with a private lab for Canadians as required for their return trip home, with White adding, “The hotels take the pain and frustration of getting it done by making the appointments for their guests.”

It’s just one more way, he says, to demonstrate that “we are focussed on ensuring that every person who comes to Jamaica can do so safely and can have a safe and successful vacation.”

As for the industry, White says “we are happy about the way things have gone (in creating a safe environment for visitors). And we are even more enthused by the confidence our international partners are showing us.”

First published at Travel Industry Today