KINGSTON, Jamaica, (JIS) – Tourism minister Edmond Bartlett has announced that the government of Jamaica is rolling out $100 million grant programme, among other initiatives, to reposition small operators in the industry. The provision is being channelled through the National Export-Import Bank of Jamaica (EX-IM Bank).
He informed that the bank is administering a grant support programme of $1.2 billion to assist tourism-related businesses with capacity building, among other coronaviruses (COVID-19) pandemic recovery efforts, as the sector prepares for the upcoming winter tourist season.
Minister Bartlett also advised that small investors in tourism can access loans, ranging between $5 million to $25 million at four percent interest and payable over seven years, among other provisions, through the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF).
The TEF is collaborating with other industry stakeholders to create programmes and resilience initiatives, geared toward “helping our small and medium enterprises to retool and rebound from COVID-19”, Bartlett said.
“The agency will be providing 500 tourism protective kits, at a cost over $15 million, to small businesses in the industry to safeguard frontline workers and visitors, while meeting the health safety guidelines of his ministry, and the ministry of health and wellness. We are committed to all layers within the industry, and we are going to be developing an aggressive programme with our minister of finance and the rest of the team, to safeguard the wellbeing of the industry, as we recover,” he further stated.
The minister said the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic have brought the tourism sector together in a way not previously experienced, adding that this partnership must remain in place, for the recovery and repositioning of tourism.
“Safeguarding the economic survival of all stakeholders within the sector remains high on our agenda. We remain committed to taking bold and decisive steps to assist players within the industry who are reeling from the effects of COVID-19,” Bartlett further stated.
Meanwhile, minister Bartlett is expressing “cautious optimism” of a major upturn in visitor arrivals for the upcoming winter season.
“Projections are for a 40 percent increase in arrivals when compared to the period preceding the massive downturn in the global industry due to the coronavirus pandemic. At the end of February 2020, the country had recorded a 5.5 percent increase in tourist arrivals over the same period in 2019. At that time, the country welcomed 1.25 million visitors, with US$859 million in revenues generated,” Bartlett added. “If that trend held for the rest of the year, we estimated end of year earnings at US$4 billion, with 4.5 million visitors. We have now been forced to revise all preliminary estimates due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” he noted.
“Thankfully, we are already seeing positive signs that buoyancy is slowly returning to the sector,” he said, noting that Jamaica is now enjoying the highest booking response rate in the region with more persons booking directly rather than through travel agents.
“If we maintain current levels of interest, we are potentially looking at over one million visitors by year-end, which would be a fairly impressive achievement, all things being considered. This would take into account the first quarter of the year when all arrivals were somewhere in the region of 800,000 people,” he pointed out.
The tourism minister noted that approximately 30 percent of employees have returned to work, albeit under conditions of reduced hours and salaries.
“Many hotels have used the downturn in international tourism as an opportunity to develop special packages to attract locals to their properties under the ‘Rediscover Jamaica’ campaign, which was launched by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in July. The campaign encourages Jamaicans to take advantage of the country’s many tourism products and attractions through “staycation” packages.
“Taking advantage of rates as low as US$70/US$80 per person all-inclusive, locals have been flocking to hotels for weekends of relaxation,” minister Bartlett advised. “ Some hotels have reported up to 50 percent to 60 percent occupancy from Jamaican bookings, with some even reporting occupancy as high as 90 percent during the Independence holiday period. We are optimistic that this initiative will continue to offset the fallout from the decline in international tourism receipts and ensure continued buoyancy of the sector,” he said.
Minister Bartlett noted that the Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) has reported that of all sectors, tourism suffered the steepest contraction for the April to June quarter because of the sharp decline in stopover and cruise passenger arrivals.
This article draws on JIS reports from Garfield L. Angus and Chris Patterson