“Since the start of this pandemic, we know the travel industry has been upside down, but finally, we can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel and we can now stand in the sunshine,” said Angella Bennett, regional director of tourism for Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), addressing 37 suppliers and several more travel advisors on Wednesday (Nov. 24) at the JTB’s second Virtual Product Showcase.
Designed to “educate, entertain, and inspire," the free online event gave agents an opportunity to hear the latest destination updates from Jamaica, connect with top-tier travel suppliers, and enjoy authentic island experiences from the comfort of their own home.
Bennett, appearing virtually alongside other members of the JTB team, wasted no time in thanking the travel trade for their “unwavering support” for Jamaica during the coronavirus crisis.
“We cannot do this without you,” she said.
The showcased featured new presentations from dozens of top tour operators and travel suppliers, including Sunwing Vacations, Transat, WestJet Vacations, Swoop Airlines, Iberostar, H10 Hotels, RIU Hotels, and more.
Agents, in virtual breakout rooms, had a chance to connect with reps from airlines, hotel and resort partners, attractions, and ground transportation services, in addition to the JTB’s on-island and in-market product teams.
The road to recovery
Jamaica was one of the first Caribbean destinations to emerge with a comprehensive health and safety program for promoting safe tourism during the pandemic.
The country’s Resilient Corridors – designated sections for tourists that has been designed to encourage safe tourism practices – have been key in driving the market’s confidence in feeling safe in destination.
The Corridor stretches 294 kilometres across almost the entire north coast including Negril, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, and Port Antonio, as well as the southwest coast of the island.
In a recent interview with PAX, President of Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association Clifton Reader called the Corridor “the single most important part of the country’s tourism recovery.”
The vaccination rate within the Corridor is currently at 70 per cent, the JTB said yesterday.
Within these zones, the country quickly implemented the Jamaica CARES program with a set of safety protocols in conjunction with health authorities towards tourism recovery.
This included establishing a vaccination task force early on to administer vaccines to tourism workers and their families.
Currently, COVID-19 testing is offered at several hotels and resorts for all Jamaicans and to visitors who require a test to return home.
For Canadians, the cost of a PCR test is $75 USD and the cost of an antigen test is as low as $17.50 USD.
The lower-than-usual PCR testing cost is part of a promotion Jamaica was recently able to secure with select private labs on the island.
Since Oct. 25, Canadian visitors have been able to book their pre-departure PCR test directly through Baywest Wellness Clinic and Technological Solutions Limited (TSL), and now, Hospiten Montego Bay, for $75 USD (inclusive of taxes), which is a reduction of more than 50 per cent off the previous testing price.
Tourists staying at a licensed hotel in Jamaica’s Resilient Corridors can schedule a PCR test online to be conducted on property via the concierge service.
Those staying in a private villa, guest house, or residence can book an in-person appointment at the closest authorized lab location.
Travel agents can also book PCR testing on behalf of their clients in advance.
Speakers sounded optimistic at yesterday’s showcase in light of Canada’s recently-eased travel warnings and restrictions.
“The lifting of the restriction on non-essential travel in Canada is welcome news for our country’s hotel partners, attractions, transportation providers and hospitality workers,” Bennett noted.
Deputy Director of Tourism for the Americas at the JTB Donald "Donnie" Dawson also logged into yesterday’s forum.
“I fully understand where our Canadian friends have been for the last year and a half – basically locked up, with strict protocols,” Dawson said, noting how the restrictions in the U.S. were “a bit looser” and, as a result, Jamaica was able to benefit from American visitors.
To that end: “I anticipate the same thing this coming winter from Canada,” Dawson said.
“This is the first winter, in basically a year, where you’re going to have an opportunity to leave home and go somewhere.”
With that, Dawson shared what he called a “two-sided slap.”
“I hope it’s a harsh winter in Canada that will drive people out,” he said. “I don’t wish that on you, but I do wish it on you, because we’d like you to get down to the warmth.”
“I feel like a lot of Canadians will travel this winter just to get away.”
“You are our best and strongest partners"
Dawson also reiterated the JTB’s strong commitment to the travel trade.
“You are our best and strongest partners,” he said. “We rely on you, the retail travel agent, to support us.”
“We’re looking forward to a strong winter from Canada. We hope that sooner, rather than later, we finally emerge from this nightmare we’ve been in over the last year and a half, two years.”
With increased air capacity from Canada, the United States, the Caribbean, Europe, and Latin America, Jamaica is hoping to hit 1.2 million visitors for winter 2022, an increase of 17.5 percent from 2019.
The JTB also says that visitors are staying longer and spending more, with average stays of eight days (up from 7.1) and an average spend of $180 USD per day (up from $169).
And, for the first time, destination earnings are beginning to outpace arrivals.
By the end of 2021, Jamaica is expected to see 1.5 million visitors and $1.9 billion USD in earnings.
As Director of Tourism at the JTB Donovan White recently told PAX in a recent interview in Jamaica: "We believe we have a strong rebound in progress and the future is definitely bright.”
With files from Ming Tappin.