By Janet Silvera
Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett has said that while the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has brought tourism to a grinding halt, the industry remains optimistic.
Bartlett, who was addressing stakeholders from his Knutsford Boulevard offices on Thursday on the way forward for the industry, said that contrary to the doomsday predictions that are being purported by some, the evidence shows that travellers are still excited about a post-COVID-19 period, and the appetite for travelling has not died.
“We are talking with the market, and the market is not as pessimistic as some people think,” Bartlett noted. “There are some green shoots that are emerging. Bookings, for example, for May and June are still very strong. People have not gone and say we are going to cancel for those months. Yes, there are cancellations for March … also for April … but when you look at May and June, nobody is saying that we are going to cancel for those months and onwards.”
Bartlett said it should not be lost in the discussions that travellers are in the habit of buying vacations up to a year in advance and are also rewarded with a number of incentive programmes, making it even more enticing for them to keep their vacation plans intact.
“People are cognisant that this coronavirus pandemic will one day subside and that there will be a return to normalcy,” he said. “Yes, it looks very bad right now, and tourism-dependent nations like Jamaica and many Caribbean nations are feeling the pinch. However, all is not lost, and we simply have to rebuild confidence and prepare ourselves for a return to normalcy.”
Bartlett said that he is urging all well-thinking Jamaicans to adhere to the health and safety guidelines that have been implemented by the Ministry of Health and Wellness, adding that “this is the best way for a speedy recovery”.
He added that it is also very important for stakeholders to keep the lines of communication open, noting that now was not the time for anybody to lose heart as “brighter days are ahead”.
“In a strange kind of way, this industry will emerge from COVID-19 as this is the time for thinkers … this is the time for the visionaries … this is the time for the Caribbean to rise and to prepare to take its rightful place as the destination for the future.”
Bartlett said that now is also the time for tourism to strengthen its linkages with other sectors, noting that now more than ever, the linkage with agriculture looks like the ideal marriage.
“Our farmers are in a real unique position to capitalise in a post-COVID-19 world,” he added. “Remember, all the rooms that are slated to come on stream are still in the making, and our domestic produce will be even more in demand than ever before. I am confident that beyond these dark clouds we are seeing here today, there is a silver lining.”