Jamaica Observer: KINGSTON – JAMAICA has recorded close to one million visitors since reopening the doors to its tourism sector in June 2020, Minister of Tourism Edmund Bartlett revealed yesterday.

According to the minister, a total of 816,632 tourists have visited the island since June 14, 2020, with 510,000, or 62 per cent, of those visitors arriving in Jamaica since January this year. But, this figure does not include passengers using Jamaican passports.

Bartlett also noted that the arrivals over the one-year period have delivered estimated earnings of US$1.312 billion, of which US$97.58 million would have accrued directly to the Government.

These earnings have been broken down as follows: US$1.2 billion in visitors’ expenditure; US$28.5 million in departure tax; US$19.5 million in passenger fees and charges; US$1.6.3 million in airline passenger levy; and US$8.5 million in hotel room taxes.

Bartlett said that among the main factors which have contributed to these achievement is that the country’s 0.6 per cent infection or positivity rate level within its Resilient Corridors has stood out as “the most outstanding social bubble anywhere in the world”.

The corridors include the coastline from Negril to Port Antonio (North Coast Corridor) and from Milk River to Negril (South Coast Corridor). Only businesses within the corridor that have been trained and assessed for adherence to COVID-19 protocols have been allowed to open to tourists.

“More recently, we named a special task force to spearhead efforts to boost Jamaica’s COVID-19 testing capacity,” Bartlett said, noting that this task force has been working with the Ministry of Health and Wellness and tourism stakeholders, both within the public and private sectors, to boost the island’s capacity to facilitate widescale COVID-19 testing for visitors.

He also pointed out that some 50,000 tourism workers who were idled by the prevalence of the pandemic, have returned to work and, in fact, are starting to make their applications for coverage under the new Tourism Workers Pension Scheme. The scheme, which became effective on January 31, last year, is expected to benefit hundreds of thousands of sector employees, and is designed to cover all workers aged 18-59 years, whether permanent, contract or self-employed.

The Government of Jamaica has provided $1 billion to seed the fund so that immediate benefits can accrue to qualified pensioners who have met the vested period of five years, and scheme is considered “the biggest human capital development game-changer in the history of Jamaica’s tourism sector”.

In his closing the 2021/22 Sectoral Debate in the House of Representative last week, Bartlett acknowledged the contribution of tourism investors to the growing recovery, as well as projects to create linkages which will ensure that Jamaican farmers can enjoy increased benefits from the recovery of the industry.

He said that despite the challenges the industry still faces, the investment climate has remained positive.

“Our goal to dramatically increase the number of hotel rooms is still on track, and I can safely say that 90 per cent of the planned investments are still on target,” he said during the debate.

Over the next two years, the Government says it expects development of more than 6,700 new rooms, 20,000 new part-time and full-time jobs and in the region of US$1.5 billion or J$220 billion in tourism investments.

“What a vote of confidence in Jamaica. Pandemic or no pandemic, the confidence in Jamaica remains strong, and we will continue to encourage tourism investments so that we can continue to lead the way in growing our economy in these challenging times,” he said.

He also promised broad opportunities for farmers, manufacturers, construction personnel and companies, insurers, bankers, drivers, tour guides, and many more who can benefit from the growth of the industry.

He said that the Tourism Linkages Council, chaired by hotelier Adam Stewart, has proven to be very critical during the novel coronavirus pandemic in assisting small and medium tourism enterprises.

“I strongly believe that the Linkages Network has served as a driving force in our efforts to revolutionise our tourism sector by bolstering the linkages with agriculture and other key sectors,” he said.

Bartlett also noted that Jamaica has emerged as a world leader in developing innovative responses to the pandemic, by successfully guiding the reopening of the sector in a safe and seamless manner.