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· The COVID-19 Tourism Recovery Task Force was formed to bring together some of Jamaica’s best minds to marshal a recovery plan for our tourism industry, which has been hard hit by the pandemic.
· The end result will be a new tourism space where health and safety are a critical priority. Certainly we want to bring visitors back to the island and do so safely; however, as we plan for the resumption of tourism equally important will be the safety of our tourism workers and the people of Jamaica.
· Tourism’s economic resilience has been severely tested by COVID-19 but I have always said our ability to lean into the headwinds of uncertainty, whether economic volatility, increased competition, political instability, or a pandemic, is what will determine the success or failure of our tourism industry.
· I remain optimistic. Tourism is a resilient sector, which can bounce back from disaster a lot easier than many other economic sectors.
· I am sometimes criticized for my optimism but my hopefulness is born out of necessity. They say “he who feels it knows it” and as Tourism Minister I am at the centre of the COVID-19 induced economic whirlpool that is sucking the life of our tourism sector.
· Daily I face the cries of the 120,000 displaced tourism workers who cannot put food on their tables, who cannot pay their rent. My heart break for the farmers who are losing millions of dollars because there are no hotels to take their produce. Then there are the crafter workers, the tour operators, the taxi drivers, and I can go on and on. All are wondering where their next paycheque will come from.
· So please excuse my optimism. I have no choice but to push against all odds – thousands of Jamaicans are depending on it.
· This is an industry that is responsible for 9.5% of Jamaica’s GDP, contributes 50% of the foreign exchange earnings of the economy, and directly employs 170,000 people while indirectly impacting another 100,000. Tourism is the lifeblood of Jamaica.
ROAD TO RECOVERY
· So what strides have we made in the recovery process to date? We are being guided by a five-point recovery strategy:
§ Robust protocols that will withstand local and international scrutiny, which are being formulated by the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
§ Training for all sectors to manage protocols and new behavioural pattern 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 Taskforce will be fine-tuning these broad areas in the coming days.
· The Taskforce’s Tourism Land-Based (stopover tourism) Working Group, chaired by PwC’s Wilfred Baghaloo, and its Technical Sub-Committee have been holding extensive consultations with tourism stakeholders, including:
§ Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association to discuss recommended timelines for reopening and protocols to be implemented within tourism entities.
§ Ground Transportation Providers and Tour Operators to discuss the capacity of the vehicles once the sector reopens and protocols to be implemented.
§ Airports and Air Service Providers to assess the requirements of airlines and airports.
§ Caledonia BioMedical Labs and Excel Medical Labs to assess their capacity to do private testing
§ Passport Immigration and Citizenship Agency (PICA) to discuss issues around immigration and how that will be dealt with at the airports as well as discussions around health declarations, E-gates, etc.
§ Hotel operators, including Sandals, Round Hill, and INVEROTEL.
§ Jamaica Manufacturers and Exporters Association (JMEA) to assess the ability of manufacturers to support the tourism sector from a supply perspective.
§ Small Hotel Operators/Community Tourism Providers to discuss how protocols can be implemented in the smaller entities.
§ Duty-Free Shopping Association/Shopping Malls.
· Additionally, TPDCo has been included in the consultation process, regarding the development of the new tourism protocols and the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) has been consulted regarding loan facilities to aid the recovery.
· Throughout all of these stakeholder consultations, Chairman Baghaloo requested opinions on timelines for the reopening of the economy. The information revealed that most of the stakeholders are eager for the borders to open immediately.
· However, time is needed to implement the necessary protocols and ensure all entities are in a state of readiness.
· We have garnered from these stakeholder consultations that:
§ All tourism entities are eager for the borders to reopen.
§ Private labs can test up to 1500 samples a day.
§ Testing of visitors should be done prior to arriving in Jamaica and upon arrival.
§ Testing of employees must be done regularly.
§ Employees will need to be assured that they are working in a sterile environment.
§ Ground Transportation providers are interested in financial support and waiver of fees.
§ Ground Transportation providers do not believe that a seating capacity of 50% will make them viable. At this capacity they will lose income. They are willing to operate at a capacity of 70%-80%.
§ The domestic market is not a viable market for hotels. International visitors are necessary for their businesses to be sustained.
§ The airports have reduced fees to their concessionaires.
§ Electronic gates are critical for PICA’s purpose (US$2Million investment for both airports).
§ Sensitization with the local stakeholders is critical.
§ Training sessions with employees is important for all workers to be aware of the protocols.
§ Protocols should be able to stand up to international scrutiny.
§ The airports have adjusted their facilities to allow for social distancing and less crowding in specific areas.
§ PICA is implementing through software, health declarations prior to visitors coming to Jamaica.
§ Arranged transportation would be ideal for the staff of all tourism entities.
§ All entities need further guidance on the protocols to start implementing throughout the properties.
· So what are the next steps? The Technical Sub-Committee will this week meet with the Private Sector Organization of Jamaica, the Medical Association of Jamaica, Hospiten, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Health and Wellness, the Jamaica Bankers’ Association and external stakeholders such as IDB, PAHO, the World Bank and the European Union.
· Once these stakeholder consultations are complete, a report is to be drafted for submission by May 20, 2020.
JCTI ONLINE TRAINING UPDATE
· I just want to share a few exciting updates on our Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation (JCTI) programmes.
· The offer of free JCTI online courses to tourism workers out of work dues to the COVID-19 crisis has received an overwhelmingly positive response.
· Within 24 hours of the launch in April, two of the 11 courses were oversubscribed.
· The JCTI’s Learning Management System (LMS) has currently registered upwards of 7,200 persons. Indeed, over 4,200 persons are enrolled in one or more of the ten courses available.
· HEART-NSTA is currently evaluating 2,780 candidates who have signed up for one of their five courses. Similarly the University of the West Indies Open Campus is working to onboard 291 wanting to study Spanish. And finally JCTI will be working with AHLEI to process over 400 applications for persons wanting the Certified Hospitality Supervisor designation.
· The JCTI team is currently making plans to increase the number of tutors from twelve to twenty to facilitate the expanded demand.
· Our initial budget of $6.1 million has been increased by $11.5 million. The programmes, most of which are already in progress will continue until July 2020.
· As we continue our human capital development strategy in earnest, I am pleased to announce that the JCTI is partnering with the Faculty of Law, UWI Western Jamaica Campus, to offer "Tourism and the Law".
· The course will be offered online in June 2020 over four weeks. It will cover basic legal principles that are relevant to the tourism industry. The following topics will be covered: Introduction to Criminal Law; Introduction to Contract Law; Introduction to the Law of Torts; and Sexual Harassment and the Law.
· The Faculty of Law is offering the course at a reduced total fee of $1 million for 50 persons, payable by the Jamaica Centre of Tourism Innovation. This works out to a fee of $20,000.00 per participant. The course is suitable for Managerial or Human Resources positions in the tourism industry. At the end of the course, the participants will be given a certificate of participation and completion.
· So you can see that we are making excellent headway in laying the groundwork for the resumption of tourism activity in Jamaica through a public-private partnership approach is bearing fruit.
Next, we will be starting discussions with Jamaica National and the National Export-Import (EXIM) Bank to examine suitable instruments to enable Small and Medium Tourism Enterprises (SMTEs) to secure COVID Security equipment. There will be more on this at a later date. Thank you.