The travel industry came to a complete halt as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, or novel coronavirus. Despite the quarantine restrictions, it has dampened Americans’ interest in traveling. According to a recent survey, 60% of Americans said they are looking forward to traveling again.
At the start of June, numerous islands across the Caribbean have started to slowly reopen their borders to welcome back tourists since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We previously reported that the U.S Virgin Islands and St. Lucia were opening their borders again last week and now Jamaica has announced that it will reopen for travelers on June 15. Other islands including the Bahamas and Antigua have also announced their plans to reopen as well in addition to airlines like American Airlines resuming their Caribbean routes.
In an email Q&A with BLACK ENTERPRISE, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Honorable Edmund Bartlett discusses the reopening process and how events like the recent Verzuz battle between Beenie Man and Bounty Killer has increased interest among Americans wanting to travel to the island nation once restrictions have been lifted.
How will Jamaica screen incoming travelers who enter the country post-COVID-19?
Health and safety are our top priorities as we reopen for tourism business, both domestically and internationally. We have been thinking carefully of both inbound travelers and also the hundreds of thousands of tourism and hospitality workers across the country who will be face to face with inbound travelers every single day. We are in the process of implementing a number of health and safety protocols in conjunction with the Ministry of Health, including temperature screening, and PPE for tourism workers. We are focused on using the latest technologies to ensure that travelers are screened repeatedly throughout their visit in a way that is thorough and effective, but not disruptive to the enjoyment of their vacation.
What are your current challenges with the reopening approach?
The health and safety of our tourism workers and visitors is paramount. Finding a way to re-start our tourism-dependent economy while ensuring said health and safety, and also preserving the authentic experiences travelers crave when they visit us, is our top priority. Consumers across generations have a new mindset as a result of COVID-19. This shared experience has created an entirely new generation: Gen-C. This new generation of travel transcends ages and geographies, and unites us with new post-COVID concerns about health and safety, and what it will mean to leave our homes, and ultimately to board airplanes once again.
Our livelihood in Jamaica depends on a successful travel and tourism sector. As the nation’s largest economic engine, the travel industry creates more than 350,000 jobs locally, and fuels more than one-third of our economy. It is essential that we get this right and we surely will.
The recent Verzuz between Beenie Man and Bounty Killer really sparked a new interest in traveling to Jamaica after the quarantine is lifted. Do you plan on capitalizing on the wave?
As music is one of our country’s beloved assets, we have used it as a driving force for tourism, leveraging our music festivals as the reason for visiting. In lieu of not being able to do so in person, we’ve been using various digital activations to keep consumers interested in, and connected to, the island.
One of these was the Escape to Jamaica Instagram series, which featured a weekly DJ Live Session that delivered the infectious energy only a Jamaican DJ can. The Verzuz battle between icons Beenie Man and Bounty Killer drew over 750,000 views and further cemented the affection for Jamaican music and travelers’ desire to visit our shores. We are well-suited to capitalize on this demand once it’s safe to travel again.
You were experiencing an increase in tourism in the beginning of the year prior to the pandemic, how do you plan on maintaining those numbers post-lockdown?
As our hotels, restaurants, and attractions closed due to COVID-19, we have turned our attention to ensuring hospitality workers across the country are prepared to provide exceptional service in a safe environment. Through the Jamaica Centre for Tourism Innovation, we have partnered with international entities including the National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel & Lodging Educational Institute, to offer free intensive online training programs for hospitality workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
We have classes including restaurant service, hospitality management certification, introduction to Spanish, a DJ certification class, and tourism law. More than 8,000 people enrolled in these programs, which will improve our service levels and ensure we are meeting the needs of Gen-C when travel resumes. Instilling confidence in consumers will help convert the pent-up demand for travel to actual bookings, and we are already starting to see booking numbers rise for the second half of the year.
How do you plan on enforcing social distancing in places like beaches?
We want vacations and local experiences to be enjoyable in this new reality. Extensive training is underway across the island to align our hospitality workers with new international standards, protocols and technology enablement. These training programs will drive awareness of procedures and empower workers to assist guests with physical distancing and any situations that emerge. We are also finalizing a traveler responsibility protocol that maps our approach to physical distancing and aligns with international third parties to ensure our protocols meet the highest industry standards.
Will the country be allowing travelers from all countries or will there be certain restrictions?
At this point we do not anticipate any restrictions, however we are monitoring the situation and reserve the right to limit travel from any emerging hotspots.