How Jamaica’s Tourism Minister sees COVID-19 from a global, regional to a local perspective?
Hon. Edmund Bartlett is not only the minister of tourism f0r Jamaica but the head of the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Center.
His comments are interesting in regard to how Jamaica’s leadership handles the impact of the virus crisis and how their minister of tourism sees the situation in Jamaica from a regional and global perspective.
All of this shows how Minister Bartlett’s calm and realistic view of this global crisis and global leadership and with a strong local commitment for his people in his country and the Caribbean region will help.
- The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact on global travel and tourism. Not since the global recession of 2008-9, has the world witnessed this dramatic downturn in global air and travel.
- The UNWTO is projecting, based on current information, a decline of 1 to 3 % in global international tourist arrivals for 2020. This could translate into a loss of US$ 30 to 50 billion in spending by international visitors.
- The Caribbean is the most tourism-dependent region in the world, one in every four Caribbean nationals is employed in the tourism sector while tourism supports 16 of 18 economies in the region.
- The reported cases indicated over 6,000 confirmed cases in the geographical space of the Americas. This is inflated by the larger numbers in the United States of America and Canada. The UNWTO Member States in the Americas have reported at least 1,091 cases including Brazil at 234 cases, Chile at 201 cases, Peru at 117 cases, Jamaica at 13 cases and Barbados at 2.
- Governments in the region are focussed on the identification of persons who have contracted the virus, containment of spread, particularly where local transmission and community spread have already been detected.
- Jamaica, which is heavily tourism-dependent is also feeling the negative effects of this pandemic.
- The island’s tourism has been significantly impacted since various countries have implemented travel restrictions; a number of airlines have significantly reduced their flights; cruises have been canceled and a number of local attractions and hotels are scaling down their operations, with some closing.
- We recognize the socio-economic impact this will have on jobs and people’s livelihoods not just here but globally.
- We are estimating the loss of approximately 150, 000 jobs directly, indirectly and induced based on these new developments.
Government Response to the downturn in tourism
- As part of our efforts to cushion the negative impact on our workers, I am in discussion with the Ministry of Finance to develop fiscal arrangements that will assist our workers during this difficult time.
- Some of the measures include:
- Discussions with commercial banks for them to provide temporary cash-flow
support to businesses and consumers in affected sectors through deferral of principal payments, new lines of credit and other measures.
- Introduction of the Covid Allocation of Resources for Employees (CARE) program which has four elements:
- Business Employee Support and Transfer of Cash (BEST Cash) – which will provide temporary cash transfer to businesses in targeted sectors based on the number of workers they keep employed.
- Supporting Employees with Transfer of Cash (SET Cash ) – which will provide temporary cash transfer to individuals where it can be verified that they lost their employment since March 10, (the date of the first Covid case in Jamaica) due to the Covid virus and this will be available for a specific period
- Special soft loan fund to assist individuals and businesses that have been hard hit.
- Supporting the poor and vulnerable with special Covid related grants.
Stakeholder plan of action
- I have created a virtual stakeholder crisis management group that includes our major local stakeholders. Through this group, we are able to provide real-time updates on all that is happening in the sector with a view to finding solutions.
- Senior members of my team and I are also maintaining contact with our overseas stakeholders – airlines, investors, travel agencies, cruise lines, hoteliers, booking agencies and marketing agencies.
- As Chairman of the UNWTO Regional Commission of the Americas, today I met with the UNWTO leadership to present the priority concerns for the tourism sector, position the Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC) during this time and encourage innovative action and information sharing to effectively address and cope with the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Through those discussions, it was highlighted that the crisis at hand affirms the important role of the GTRCMC. The Centre represents the primary institutional framework in the region for assessing, forecasting, mitigating and managing risks to the tourism sector. Its responsibilities include assisting with preparedness, management, and recovery from disruptions and/or crises that impact tourism and threaten economies and livelihoods.
- To respond to the COVID-19 threat, the Centre recently appointed Dr. Elaine William as Coordinator of Pandemics at the Centre. Dr. Williams, who is a well-known pathologist, will be working with key stakeholders in health to build clinical resilience in the industry.
- Despite its vulnerability to global disruptions, tourism has shown its resilience and ability to bounce back.
- For example, in spite of the SARS threat in 2004, Caribbean tourism robustly held its own and grew by 7 % to reach 21.8 million in 2004. As a consequence of the combined effect of the global financial crisis and the H1N1 outbreak of 2009, the Caribbean travel and tourism GDP grew by 0.3 % in 2010 but quickly bounced back to register growth rates of 3.3 % in 2011, 5 % in 2012 and 5.3 % in 2014 ,amid the Ebola threat. The Caribbean tourism sector has, in fact, grown for ten successive years since 2010.
- Despite the initial positive outlook for global and regional tourism in 2020, we can now reasonably anticipate negative repercussions from the unexpected fallout associated with the COV1D pandemic. These repercussions will likely extend into 2021. We are, however, confident that, as we have done many times in the past, we will navigate this difficult period based on the numerous response systems and initiatives that we have already deployed at the national and regional levels that are showing efficacy.
- During this period we will be keeping abreast of best practices/lessons learned to build on those initiatives that may allow for quicker recovery of the sector.