The Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association (JHTA) is spearheading an action in response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, through its COVID-19 Ambassador Programme.
The initiative is taking the everyday worker in the tourism sector and transforming them into national ambassadors, tasked with public education and promotion of COVID-19 safety protocols at the community level.
This is done by training these selected ambassadors in the various accommodations and attractions on safety protocols developed and being successfully utilised in the sector for the well-being of local and international tourists.
So far, the programme has been launched in a number of tourism hotspots across the country, to include Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, Negril and Kingston. The initiative is to be launched in Portland and St. Elizabeth.
President of the JHTA, Clifton Reader, tells JIS News that the project intends to fill a gap in the delivery of safety response measures in communities situated in and around tourism corridors.
“In September , we launched the programme that takes the trained staff from within hotels and other facilities to go out into their communities to sensitise the people and train them in the proper handling of the COVID-19 protocols, because we realised that there was a gap in the delivery,” Mr. Reader says.
“When staff go home they will be exposed and they could really bring back COVID-19 to the hotels. So, through them we are making sure we educate and protect the community, and by protecting the community we protect the staff when they are not in the walls of the hotels, and by virtue, the guests will be safe as well,” he adds.
Mr. Reader points out that more than 30 ambassadors have, so far, been recruited under the programme.
He notes that in addition to community sensitisation, they have handed out more than 10,000 masks to communities islandwide.
These masks were contributed by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) as well as private entities and donors.
“In Ocho Rios [for instance], what we did was to go into the town square. We have town criers, we work with the Ministry of Health and Wellness to issue flyers, to go into communities and really educate people. We not only gave out the masks but we teach them how to use it and how to sanitise,” Mr. Reader says.
“We have partnered with some companies to get sanitisers [and] our employees (ambassadors) have been wonderful. Some of them make their own masks to distribute and some of them even go to the supermarket and buy stuff to distribute to people who are not fortunate,” he adds.
Following the Negril launch in December 2020, the ambassadors handed out more than 2,000 masks, in addition to sanitisers and pamphlets.
Mr. Reader emphasises that the virus has no respect for anyone, and Jamaicans would do themselves and the country a great service if they adhere to the safety protocols.
“No matter who you are, COVID-19 can affect you and it is coming closer to every one of us. We are hearing of increased numbers to the point where stricter actions are being taken. So, we have to get serious about this thing,” he says.
A Negril recruit of the COVID-19 Ambassador Programme, Vanessa Ralston, tells JIS News that she will be playing her part in educating the residents of her home community in Grange Hill on how to better protect themselves from the virus.
She adds that handing out masks and finding solutions to COVID-19-related issues in her community will also be at the forefront of her duties.
“This is a very important programme, because I think persons need to be more aware of everything that is going on around us, the importance of doing the right thing and following the guidelines,” Ms. Ralston says.
At the Negril launch, Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, endorsed the initiative and noted that more masks are on the way for communities bordering the tourism hotspots.