The Gleaner: KINGSTON, WESTERN BUREAU, Jamaica – Jamaica will welcome its one millionth stopover visitor this afternoon, one year and two months after reopening its borders, signalling the fastest growth period in the island’s history.

The island has achieved this milestone against the background of a pandemic that decimated tourism worldwide, forcing nations dependent on the industry to start from scratch.

The country’s borders were closed in March 2020 owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, reopening three months later, June 15, with the first land-based visitors.

Cruise shipping, a vital aspect of the industry, particularly for the ordinary man, took over a year to resume, but the country is set welcome its first cruise ship tomorrow.

Over 3,000 cruise passengers and crew will dock at the Reynold’s Port in Ocho Rios, on Carnival Cruise Line’s Sunrise. The ship heralds the restart of a segment of the tourism industry that experienced pre-pandemic 2019 earnings of US$500 million.

Of the overall US$3.7 billion that the tourism sector earned in that year, cruise shipping accounted for one-seventh, so much so that during the 18-month absence, the country lost some J$25 billion.

“Both days, Sunday and Monday, will be the second critical phase of the recovery programme for the economy and tourism,” stated Jamaica’s tourism minister, Edmund Bartlett.

Broken down, the economic benefit the tourism minister speaks of includes 9.8 per cent contribution to the nation’s gross domestic product, 17 per cent of foreign direct investments and generating of some 170,000 direct jobs, while indirectly affecting another 100,000 persons.

For the last fiscal year, the Jamaican Government lost direct revenue from the tourism sector of J$46.3 billion through airport charges and taxes, guest accommodation room tax, general consumption tax, Tourism Enhancement Fund collections, cruise taxes, and other government taxes.

“For a small country such as Jamaica to make such a singular achievement, it has a critical implication for the broader recovery programme of the economy in general, and the bringing back of the livelihood of Jamaicans,” Bartlett added, the excitement and hope in his voice evident.

In sync with the return of the tourism sector have been some 50,000 jobs in hotels, restaurants, airport, and ground transportation. And Bartlett is forecasting another 50,000 within the next five to six months.

The minister credits the rapid recovery with the industry’s management of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the bragging rights of being among the first to bring an understanding to the world that protocols are vital.

“We were the first to create a model which the world recognises. We call it the resilient corridor, and we have had a record positivity rate in that corridor that is enviable of point six of a per cent. We have worked to build the capacity of our workers to manage themselves, and to utilise the PPE (personal protective equipment) that are provided,” Bartlett boasted.

Lauding the hospitality workers for their role in adapting to and protecting themselves, while securing the livelihood of the industry, the tourism minister accepted that owing to the fact that they reside in areas where the virus has been spreading, he was cognisant that any infection within their environment would affect them.

“And where this is found, we move quickly and swiftly to assist the workers in enabling swift recovery in all instances,” he noted.

By Janet Silvera