Jamaica Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, has an urgent appeal to the world for a tourism resilience fund to achieve tourism recovery.
At a UNWTO conference held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, to commemorate 2017 as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, Jamaica Tourism Minister, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, had warned that global tourism interests should take seriously the threat of pandemics and epidemics based on the declaration of pandemics in 2010 by the OECD as global security issues and a Future Global Shock. It has been observed that the number of new diseases per decade has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years, and since 1980, the number of outbreaks per year has more than tripled. Based on these facts, The OECD argued that there needs to be higher political and budgetary prioritization of pandemics to promote human security in the same way other national security risks are prioritized.
Hon. Bartlett also cited a 2008 report by the World Bank which found that a prolonged pandemic could trigger a major global recession with economic losses resulting not necessarily from sickness or death but from efforts to avoid infection including reducing air travel, avoiding travel to infected destinations, and reducing consumption of services such as restaurant dining, tourism, mass transport, and nonessential retail shopping.
Fast-forward to 2020, the world collectively grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic which is the worst catastrophic event that global tourism has experienced since the Great Depression of 1929. Due to the combined effects of the pandemic and travel restrictions, 174 million jobs in tourism and travel are at risk while the total economic impact is expected to exceed over 1 trillion dollars.
Despite the daunting challenges, if there is one thing that is known about international tourism, it is that tourism is one of the most resilient segments of the global economy. While the impact of the pandemic will likely carry into 2021, most global destinations have been finding ways to adapt and have developed recovery plans to manage the reopening of their tourism industries.
The pace of recovery, however, continues to vary from country to country. Fortunately, most of the world is now in a position to identify some of the success factors for reasonably-paced recovery of the tourism sector based on the experiences of specific countries. Critically, effective leadership with the industry has been central to making tactical adjustments to business operations in the short term to ensure adaptability during the crisis and survival beyond.
Obviously, there has been a need for consistent coordination and cooperation not just between the public and private sectors, but within each of these, to ensure that all affected stakeholders have access to timely and accurate information to allow for efficient and optimal decision-making. In Jamaica, the leadership of Hon. Minister Bartlett during this crisis, has reflected this activist and corporative approach. Jamaica’s agencies recognized from very early that the pace of recovery hinged on how well the country would be able to forge meaningful partnerships to contain the spread of the pandemic. From the onset, Jamaica Tourism has been actively engaging all stakeholders and partners, including travel agencies, cruise lines, hoteliers, booking agencies, marketing agencies, airlines, the World Tourism Organization (WTO), Caribbean Tourism Organization (CTO), Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association (CHTA), and more to develop measures to manage the crisis. The approach has revolved around ensuring targeted communications, balancing information between warning and assurance, and ensuring cross-sectorial cooperation.
In March, Jamaica Tourism announced measures to be adopted by all tourism entities to prevent the spread of COVID-19. These measures had three main components: developing the required infrastructure, providing support to the Ministry of Health, and educating all stakeholders about the COVID-19 virus. A COVID-19 coordinator was appointed who would be responsible for keeping abreast with health protocols and preventative measures as well as maintaining communication with booking agencies to ensure that information on travel precautionary measures are observed.
The main concern of Jamaica Tourism has always been the survival of tourism enterprises and the well-being of displaced workers in the sector. These two goals are crucial to recovery as tourism enterprises and workers constitute the backbone of the sector. The Ministry’s approach to ensuring that the sector stays afloat during this period has emphasized fiscal stimulus to save jobs, sustain self-employment, and to support companies’ liquidity and operations. Jamaica Tourism has provided the most comprehensive fiscal stimulus in the country’s history to support businesses and workers with benefits including cash grants to workers, extending business grants, and moratoriums on licenses and loans. The Ministry has also partnered with financial institutions to relax loan repayment terms and to improve access to credit to struggling businesses. It also helped to identify alternative supply chains and markets for micro, small-, and medium-sized tourism enterprise, especially those in the agricultural sector.
Planning and strategizing are also crucial success factors of recovery. Due to the complexity and ubiquity of the disruptions caused by the pandemic as well as the increased need to achieve tight control of response measures and their outcomes, a haphazard and laissez-faire approach will not ensure timely recovery. The recovery process thus has to be carefully-managed. In Jamaica, they have already established a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Task Force that will assume responsibility for chartering the country’s strategies for the gradual resumption of business activities. A five-point plan for the recovery of the tourism sector has also been unveiled which includes: developing robust health and safety protocols, increased training for all segments of the tourism sector, building safety and security infrastructure, and acquiring PPE and hygiene tools.
The reopening plan is being guided by the Ministry’s Tourism Recovery Task Force, which is a public-private sector collaboration consisting of key stakeholders from the tourism sector, the Ministry of Tourism, and Agencies of the Ministry. It will be supported by two Working Teams – one for general tourism and another for cruise tourism – and a Secretariat. The Task Force has been tasked to bring about a realistic view of the sector’s baseline or starting position; develop scenarios for multiple versions of the future; establish the strategic posture for the sector as well as a broad direction of the journey back to growth; establish actions and strategic imperatives that will be reflected across various scenarios; and establish trigger points to tackle action, which includes a planned vision in a world that is learning to evolve rapidly.
The Jamaica Tourism Ministry has also been working to develop standards that will help to boost destination security in a time when international tourists are paying closer attention to their health and safety when planning their itineraries. It has recognized that destinations responding to these needs are also likely to attract greater shares of the dwindling international tourist market during this period and ultimately will recover faster.
Before the reopening of the tourism sector in June, the Ministry unveiled the Tourism Industry Post COVID-19 Protocols, which were developed to ensure the safety of the workers in the industry, as well as to build confidence among travelers that the country is adapting to “the new normal” of additional health and hygiene practices. The protocols, which are contained in an 88-page document, covers all segments of the industry including: Airports, Cruise Ports, Accommodations, Attractions, Tourism Transportation Operators, Craft Traders, Water Sports Operators, General Security and Public Safety, and Mega Events. The COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols have been endorsed by the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC). The protocols have also been globally recognized as providing leadership in tourism COVID-19 management arrangements and when fully adhered to, will make Jamaica among the most COVID-19-resilient destinations in the world.
Innovation is also recognized as both a catalyst of recovery and growth in the post-COVID era. Destination security and attractiveness will be increasingly linked to innovations that provided added layers of peace of mind for tourists by mitigating the risks they can possibly encounter when they travel. To this end, the Tourism Ministry has conceptualized a travel insurance framework for Jamaica that will strengthen its architecture for destination security by ensuring that it provides a safety net for visitors against the risk of incurring unforeseen medical expenses and against other travel-related emergencies that can disrupt the seamlessness of travel experiences.
The ground-breaking traveler protection program known as “Jamaica Cares” will be launched this month and will be a partnership coordinated and administered by the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre with support from the Global Travel and Tourism Council, Global Rescue, and leading international and national insurance companies. For just US$40, Jamaica Cares provides visitors access to compulsory traveler protection and emergency medical services including: case management, transport logistics, field rescue, evacuation, and repatriation for medical emergencies, including COVID-19 and other crises up to and including natural disasters.
Another concept that the Tourism Ministry has introduced to promote Jamaica as a safe destination for international tourists is the establishment of COVID-Resilient Corridors which will a constitute a key feature of the country’s tourism recovery plan. The Resilient Corridors, which include the country’s main resort towns, provide the opportunity for visitors to move around and visit COVID-compliant attractions located along the corridors that are authorized for visits by health authorities. The COVID-resilient Corridors were an industry first to promote fulfilling yet safe experiences for tourists and locals alike in a manner that will deliver more economic benefits for local businesses from tourism activities.
The Hon. Bartlett reiterated the call for the establishment of a Global Tourism Resilience Fund to improve the capacity of vulnerable tourist destinations globally to better respond to, manage, and recover from shocks. The Fund would especially target destinations that are recognized as facing high vulnerability but have insufficient financial capacity to prepare for and recover quickly from disruptions.