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· The COVID-19 pandemic brought the global tourism and travel industry to a standstill, making it one of the worst affected economic sectors.
· With airplanes on the ground, hotels closed and travel restrictions in virtually all countries, the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) estimates that international tourist arrivals will contract by 20% to 30% in 2020 when compared with 2019 figures, equivalent to a loss of US$ 300 to 450 billion in international tourism receipts (exports).
· Here in Jamaica, the impact of the pandemic is aggravated by our heavy reliance on the sector – our tourism dependence. Much like the rest of the Caribbean.
· The tourism industry is Jamaica’s bread and butter. It is responsible for 9.5% of GDP, contributes 50% of the foreign exchange earnings of the economy, and generates 354,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs.
· The Ministry of Tourism has calculated the economic fallout. The estimated loss of direct tourism revenue to the Government due to COVID-19 for April 2020 to March 2021 is J$38.4 billion.
· The estimated overall loss to the economy from visitor expenditure from stopover arrivals is J$107.6 billion. Therefore, you can see why the Government is anxious to revive this all-important economic sector.
· With the phased reopening of the industry on June 15, we will see a substantial transformation in the way the industry operates. Destinations, attractions and other facilities will be putting a heavy focus on hygiene, sanitation standards, temperature checks, facemasks and social distancing.
· Everyone is talking about this “new normal”. Nowhere is it more evident than in the tourism industry.
· Safe and resilient tourism has consistently been a foundational element of Jamaica's tourism industry. Visitors and locals alike have high expectations for Jamaica as a top vacations destination.
· This will continue to be our guiding principle as we rebuild our tourism sector in a sustainable way that supports the Jamaican people as we once again welcome visitors to our shores.
POST COVID-19 SUSTAINABLE TOURISM
· Amid concern about the reopening of the sector, I am assuring the public that it is being carried out safely and in a way, which protects our frontline tourism workers, Jamaican citizens and our visitors.
· We are being guided by a five-point recovery strategy:
§ Robust health and security protocols that will withstand local and international scrutiny.
§ Training all sectors to manage protocols and new behavioural patterns moving forward.
§ Strategies around COVID security infrastructure (PPEs, masks, infrared machines, etc.).
§ Communication with the local and international markets about reopening
§ A staggered approach to reopening/managing risk in a structured way.
· The Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) along with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) has formulated the tourism protocols, following extensive consultation with the Ministries of Health, National Security and Foreign Affairs as well other local and international partners.
· Also, our protocols have received the global endorsement of the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).
· They are designed based on benchmarks of nearly 20 markets in the Caribbean and globally as well as international health agencies and cover big and small hotels, guesthouses, attractions, beaches, transportation, shopping, social activities (restaurants and bars) and cruise ports.
· The fundamental elements of the tourism protocols:
§ Face masks and personal protective equipment
§ Physical distancing
§ Clear communications and messaging
§ Digital enablement
§ Real-time health monitoring and reporting
§ Rapid response
· While implementing these health and safety protocols, we are being mindful not to overshadow the “heart and soul of Jamaica”, which has made us such an attractive destination for locals and visitors alike.
· We do not want sanitisation and physical distancing to create a sterile culture. We will continue to infuse our vibrancy, warmth and culture in everything we do.
· Our focus has not only been on safety and security but also the financial health of the sector to assist tourism workers and businesses and mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, including grants through the COVID Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) programme.
· We are in discussions with Jamaica National and the National Export-Import (EXIM) Bank to examine suitable instruments to enable SMTEs to secure COVID Security equipment.
· In addition, the Ministry of Finance will be providing $1.2 billion in COVID-19 Tourism Grants to support smaller operators in the tourism and related sectors, inclusive of hotels, attractions and tours, which are registered with the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCO).
THE RISE OF HEALTH & WELLNESS TOURISM
· Health and wellness tourism has been a growing trend globally.
· Before COVID-19 took hold, this tourism niche sector was growing twice as fast as regular tourism. It was cited as one of the top trends for 2020.
· In February 2020, the US-based non-profit Global Wellness Institute (GWI) predicted that by 2022, the wellness tourism market will reach a whopping $919 billion – representing 18% of all global tourism – with well over a billion individual wellness trips to take place around the globe.
· COVID-19 has amplified the focus on wellness, fitness, nutrition and mindfulness. Therefore, we must find ways to better support the enhancement and development of Jamaica’s health and wellness tourism product.
· This focus on Health and Wellness forms part of the Ministry of Tourism’s mission to expand tourism beyond the traditional “sun, sea and sand” concept. It is one of the five networks, under the Tourism Linkages Network (TLN), that my Ministry is using to spur the growth and diversity of our product; the others being Gastronomy, Sports and Entertainment; Shopping and Knowledge.
· This niche market is an easy fit. By its very nature, tourism is about relaxation and wellness.
· Our natural assets put us at an advantage. The warmth of our climate, the development of nutraceuticals and our natural hot springs are among the products that are essential to this growing travel market.
· The Health and Wellness Network, headed by acclaimed scientist Dr. Henry Lowe, has created an effective governance framework to make Jamaica’s wellness industry more internationally competitive. The Network has also been packaging, promoting and marketing health and wellness assets as an important tourism niche area.
· We have committed over $66 million over the next three years to drive this market. Let me share a few of the initiatives.
· Product Development Workshops: Last November, the TLN in association with the BioTech Research & Development Institute, hosted the second in a series of product development workshops to engage members of the spa, physiotherapy and dermatological community on the use of plant-based ingredients in the development of natural products and its use in economic growth and development.
· Some 64 practitioners benefitted from a previous workshop held at the University of the West Indies in April 2019; and this November “Coffee Edition” workshop, which looked at the by-products of Blue Mountain coffee in the making of all-natural skincare products, attracted a similar number of participants.
· This type of innovation creates sector integration that builds sustainability. Here we have the coming together of agriculture, health and wellness, and tourism to create new products and services, stimulate demand for raw materials, and provide experiential services that both locals and visitors can enjoy.
· Spa Standards Sensitization: The Network has also hosted Spa Standards Sensitization sessions in partnership with the Bureau of Standards, Ministry of Health and the Jamaica Spa Association (JSPA) to promote the adoption of the JS319 standards in spas in-keeping with a high quality and safe health and wellness tourism product.
· The overall objective of these sessions was to increase the international market-readiness of spas and wellness facilities by encouraging the adoption of the Jamaica Standard Specification for Spa Entities and the Jamaica Spa Association classification system.
· The workshops will be an ongoing advocacy programme to promote the adoption of international standards on the wellness landscape of Jamaica.
· National Herbaceutical Research Project: The development of the herbaceutical sector is a priority activity of the Ministry of Tourism. To this end, the Network collaborated with the Centre for leadership at the University of the West Indies to undertake studies to explore and locate areas of opportunity on which Government can act to design and implement policies and programmes to develop a more robust herbaceutical industry.
· These are just a few of the activities of our Health and Wellness Network. You can see that by aligning services to international standards and encouraging the use of natural products we are ensuring a credible and safe health and wellness tourism product.
· I believe that in our current COVID-19 world, health will be the new wealth. Visitors will continue to seek wellness experiences but they will be looking through a holistic wellness lens. This includes wellness programmes, natural beauty treatments and fresh food with fewer travel miles.
· This makes Jamaica an easy fit for the “new normal” because this has always been our focus.
· Our marketing arm, the Jamaica Tourist Board has been doing an excellent job of inspiring confidence in both the local and international markets that Jamaica is a safe and secure destination for all.
· However, even beyond COVID-19, the JTB’s 'Heartbeat of the World' campaign is leveraging Jamaica’s natural assets to reinforce our position as a global leader among travel destinations and establish Jamaica as the single destination every traveller must experience.
· Safety, security and seamlessness underpin the sense of well-being of visitors crossing borders and the tourism workers that interact with them daily. It is our responsibility as a destination to ensure the well-being of all tourism stakeholders is secure.