Minister of Tourism, Hon. Edmund Bartlett, is expressing “cautious optimism” of a major upturn in visitor arrivals for the upcoming winter season.
He said projections are for a 40 per cent increase in arrivals when compared to the period preceding the massive downturn in the global industry due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Minister Bartlett, who was addressing the Jamaica Hotel and Tourist Association’s (JHTA) virtual annual general meeting on Friday (Sept 18), said that the public health crisis has derailed preliminary end of year growth projections for the sector.
He noted that at the end of February 2020, the country had recorded a 5.5 per cent 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.
“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. Obviously, 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 per cent of employees have returned to work, albeit under conditions of reduced hours and salaries.
He said that 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 said.
He informed that some hotels have reported up to 50 per cent to 60 per cent occupancy from Jamaican bookings, with some even reporting occupancy as high as 90 per cent 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.