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· As the Government makes plans to reopen the economy amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, tourism is taking centre stage. And for good reason. 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.
· Tourism is big business – 80% of which is small business – the restaurants, craft vendors, tour and transportation operators, attractions, bars, duty-free shops. Due to tourism’s transversal nature and the linkages with other productive sectors, it also stimulates agriculture, manufacturing and the creative economy.
· It is within this context that we are anxious to revive tourism, which has been severely crippled by the pandemic.
· 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.
· You can see therefore that the phased reopening of our borders to international travellers on June 15 is not just about tourism. It is a matter of economic life or death.
· We need to get the over 350,000 pandemic-displaced workers back to work. We need to provide some salvation to the many tourism enterprises that right now are at severe economic risk.
· As I say this, I am mindful of the public sentiment that we are moving too fast and this will pose a health risk to the Jamaican people. I want to assure you that the reopening will be carried out safely and in a way that protects our frontline tourism workers, Jamaican citizens and our visitors. As our Prime Minister stresses, we must continue to protect lives while securing our livelihoods.
· Our Government has demonstrated consistency in focus and resolve in containing the pandemic and with excellent results. We do not intend to undo this good work.
· Therefore, let me underscore that non-nationals who enter from June 15 will be subject to the same health and risk screening process (temperature checks, symptoms observation) as nationals.
· Based on screening, if assessed to be high risk they will be required to self-quarantine at their destination until the results are available.
· As announced previously, tourism’s reopening is 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 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 Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) collaborated with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to formulate these tourism protocols.
· This follows extensive consultations with local government agencies, particularly the Ministries of Health, National Security and Foreign Affairs as well as the private sector, the unions, and other local and international partners.
· In addition, 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, and international health agencies.
· Industry Segments Covered by the Protocols:
§ Small hotels/guesthouses
§ Social activities (restaurants and bars)
§ 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 do not want them to overshadow the “heart and soul of Jamaica” that makes us such an attractive destination for visitors and local alike. In other words, we do not want sanitisation and physical distancing to create a sterile culture. We will continue to infuse our warmth and culture in everything we do, to remind the world that this is the #1 place to be.
· As part of our wider work to safeguard the wellbeing of our tourism workers when the sector reopens, my Ministry recently donated 10,000 masks to frontline industry workers. This latest initiative, is being undertaken through the Tourism Product Development Company (TPDCo) and Tourism Linkages Network.
· We are spending just a little over $5 million in this exercise and we are excited because not only is the initiative facilitating the provision of much-needed protective cover, but is contributing to economic sustainability by generating opportunities for small enterprises to create a cottage industry through the making of masks. Some 22 small entrepreneurs were engaged to make these masks.
· Our focus has not only been on safety and security but also the financial protection of the sector.
· 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).
· Yesterday, we did a fact-finding tour of select properties in Montego Bay and Ocho Rios – Hospiten, Holiday Inn, Sandals Montego Bay, Sangster International Airport, Coral Cliff/Margaritaville, Deja Resorts and Jamaica Inn – to gauge the readiness of the industry for reopening. I am pleased by what I have seen, and I am confident in the reopening of the tourism sector in a manner that is safe and secure for tourism workers, Jamaican citizens and our visitors.