Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON, By Balford Henry – TOURISM Minister Edmund Bartlett says that the island can expect more than 50 non-stop flights per week between Canada and Jamaica, starting November 1.

Speaking from Canada, where he has been having a series of engagements with travel industry leaders in Toronto, Minster Bartlett said the development has been confirmed with senior executives of Canada’s largest airlines.

He said that as Canada, Jamaica’s second-largest market for tourists, steadily rebounds after more than a year and a half in the doldrums due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and stringent Government-imposed travel restrictions, the flights will be operated by Air Canada, Westjet, Sunwing, Swoop and Air Transat, with non-stop services from the Canadian cities of Toronto, Montreal, Calgary, Winnipeg, Hamilton, Halifax, Edmonton, St John, Ottawa, and Moncton.

Bartlett noted that the Canadian market currently has forward bookings hovering around 65 percent of the 2019 levels, and airlift for the winter season at around 82 per cent of 2019 levels, with around 260,000 seats locked in.

“This is positive news, as Canada has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 related travel restrictions which, for several months, literally shut down international travel,” the minister said.

“Now with more than 80 percent of eligible Canadians over the age of 12 fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and a relative easing of international travel restrictions, we are cautiously optimistic. They are also excited about Jamaica’s resilient corridors where most tourists’ vacation is safe, with relatively high vaccination rates and near zero infection rates,” Bartlett noted.

He also pointed out that, as is the case for everyone over the age of 12 travelling to Jamaica, Canadians must show proof of a negative COVID-19 test result taken within 72 hours of departure.

Noting the critical importance of tourism to Jamaica’s economic recovery, Bartlett highlighted the fact that the industry plays a pivotal role in Jamaica’s post-pandemic recovery, and for good reason.

“There is no better industry to drive the inclusive, shrewd and sustainable economic growth needed to move the country forward. There is no better industry to increase revenue, restore jobs and generate new opportunities in communities across Jamaica,” he stated.

Senior advisor and strategist in the tourism ministry, Delano Seiveright, highlighting some of the challenges being faced by the industry, said that engagements across the United States and Canada have brought to the fore a range of issues that the minister will be troubleshooting with his ministerial colleagues to mitigate obstacles to accelerated and sustained growth in the coming weeks and months.

“Among the issues on Jamaica’s end is the need to significantly step up vaccination efforts, sort through public health logistics for cruise lines, and other improvements to assure seamlessness for our key partners,” Seiveright said.

“Beyond that, there are some obstacles and difficulties that are completely outside our control, including Canada’s very stringent COVID-19 travel rules which include the need for a PCR test in order to enter the country and logistics and itinerary challenges for cruise lines,” he added.

Bartlett was also joined in the series of engagements with travel industry leaders in Canada by chairman of the Jamaica Tourist Board John Lynch; Director of Tourism Donovan White; and regional director for JTB Canada, Angella Bennett.

The high-level engagements followed similar meetings with leaders of major airlines, cruise lines, and investors across Jamaica’s largest source market, the United States.

Seiveright said that this is being done to increase arrivals to the destination in the coming weeks and months, as well as to foster further investment in the local tourism sector.