By Garwin Davis
KINGSTON, Jamaica (JIS) – Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett announced that Jamaica remains in dialogue with the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the European Union (EU), among others to minimise the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global industry;while the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCM) will be charged with driving the recovery of tourism in Jamaica and elsewhere in the region post-COVID-19.
“The focus “is on the way forward and steps to be taken in terms of building support mechanisms and to come up with an appropriate plan to address the crisis,” he explained. “We are mindful of the fact that all source markets are either taking strong restrictive measures such as closing their borders or have developed some very elevated protocols, which call for quarantining or heavy screening of visitors who come into their shores. We, however, must ensure that all lines of communication remain open and that we don’t fall into a sense of hopelessness, despite the obvious challenges,” he said.
Minister Bartlett said that the country, in the short-term, might have to look at placing a lot more emphasis on domestic tourism, adding that creative ways have to be found to assist the hotels that choose to remain open. He noted, however, that the ministry of health and wellness guidelines relating to mass gatherings and social distancing must be followed.
“I think it is fair to say that traditional tourism the way we know it in Jamaica, the Caribbean and in almost all other areas of the world will require a new approach to building back the industry,” the tourism minister said. He expressed confidence that together, as a nation, we will get over this hurdle … however difficult it might now seem”.
President of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA), Omar Robinson, for his part, noted that the level-four travel advisory issued by the United States State Department on March 19, warning citizens not to travel abroad will have a far-reaching impact on the industry.
“Level four is the highest level of alert in a travel advisory, so yes, it will have an impact. It will probably be the deciding factor in hotels/attractions and other tourism entities remaining opened or closed. Each entity will have to make that call, but survival is the key right now,” he said.
Minister Bartlett also advised that GTRCM will be even more committed to making Jamaica and the Caribbean among the safest destinations in the world.
“While nobody knew that a pandemic like no one has ever seen would bring global tourism to a virtual standstill, the GTRCM, fortunately, was created to deal with recovery and in whatever form,” Bartlett added. “When world leaders, legislators, and academics from around the world convened in Montego Bay last year January to commemorate the opening of the GTRCM Centre, we were thinking about the possibility of hurricanes, earthquakes, flooding and other disasters that we have experienced in the past … nothing like the coronavirus.
The tourism minister continued: “While we were cognisant that there could be pandemics and other threatening diseases, nobody could have foreseen anything of this magnitude were an invisible enemy… a phantom, basically … would emerge that would close borders, shut down airports and seaports, close hotels, essentially shutting down travel, and having everybody retreat to the confines of their homes,” he explained.
“This is where the GTRCM, will come into play,” he noted “serving as a reference point for information, communication, and research on best practices in tourism recovery, which will effectively provide the road map on where we need to go to get back on our feet – so that growth can be recovered in the fastest possible time”.
GTRCM is based out of the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus, is a tourism resource centre dedicated to conducting policy-relevant research and analysis on destination preparedness, management and recovery due to disruptions and crises that impact tourism and threaten economies and livelihoods. It involves collaboration with domestic and international policymakers and practitioners at all levels of government, private and non-profit sectors and academia.
According to minister Bartlett, noting the sector’s resilience, said: “Of all the major industries globally, none face greater exposure to disruptions as the tourism industry, which has proven again and again that it has the greatest capacity for recovery”.
“We will continue to focus on four core areas of challenge – climate change and disaster management, security and cybersecurity, entrepreneurial management and data analytics, and pandemic and epidemic management,” minister Bartlett said.