‘WE WON’T PUT YOU AT RISK’: Tourism Minister confident Jamaica will weather coronavirus outbreak

Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett says that while he endeavours on a robust agenda, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has not yet impacted the island’s growth trajectory.

Bartlett, who spoke on Thursday (March 5) at a meeting of the National Disaster Risk Management Council at Jamaica House, further posited that Jamaica is no stranger to global disturbances such as COVID-19.

“The tourism industry, and particularly our tourism sector in Jamaica is not unaccustomed to disruptions. Global disruptions [are] a feature of our experience as our vulnerability to these disruptions are well known,” he said.

“The industry has, over the years, developed a resilience that perhaps is second-to-none in all other sectors in the world. Panic doesn’t exist as a word in our vocabulary,” the minister argued. Bartlett contended that his ministry is driven by three principal elements: clear vision, wise leadership and global collaborations, which ends with effective crisis communication.

In the meantime, he explained that a five-part protocol system has been established to keep the tourism machinery running. “We have looked at what’s happening in the markets overall, and then we talk incessantly to our partners—what’s happening in aviation? What’s happening with the cruise lines? What are the booking engines of the world saying? Our protocols are looking at how do we engage and maintain communication with our markets in every area; and most importantly, how do we build destination assurance?” he said.

According to Bartlett, the five-part protocols cover a wide cross-section of tourist and local infrastructures, namely for the airports, cruise ports, tourism entities, public education as well as safety and security. Having outlined the all-encompassing macro-positions, Bartlett remained upbeat that Jamaica’s tourism product would weather the COVID-19 storm.

The minister disclosed that, despite the outbreak, which began in late December, Jamaica recorded yet another record winter tourist season, having surpassed the island’s 2019 showing by some 21,000 visits.

“As of now, we still are growing. At the end of February, we grew by 5.2% for the year so far. Last winter was the largest winter ever so to grow [on that] means we have a little over 21,000 people coming to Jamaica at the end of February,” he said. Bartlett assured the public that though tourism contributes greatly to the Jamaican economy, safeguarding the population remains the government’s top priority. “We will not compromise the health [and] security of Jamaica for any reason whatsoever,” Bartlett noted.