Groups protest order for tourists to remain at hotels

Groups protest order for tourists to remain at hotels

Saturday, August 15, 2020

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MONTEGO BAY, St James — Three powerful tourism-affiliated organisations are voicing alarm and strong disapproval at the Government’s recent decision to reverse the disaster risk management order, now prohibiting tourists from leaving their hotels.

In a letter to the editor, a copy of which was sent to the Jamaica Observer, head of the Jamaica Hotel and Tourism Association Omar Robinson, president of the Association of Jamaican Attractions Marilyn Burrowes, and chairman of the COVID-19 Resilient Corridor John G Byles expressed that they are stunned by the Government’s decision to overturn the order that allowed tourists to leave hotel properties.

“Given the success thus far, since June 15 of our operations on the resilient corridors, we are surprised and disappointed that in an update to the disaster risk management (DRM) [order] on August 5, the Government reversed the order, once again restricting tourists to just their hotel grounds. With all the public/private partnership on this project to date, along with success so far on the beginnings of bringing our tourism workers back to work, we cannot understand why this decision has been taken. Even a cursory look at Jamaica’s positive cases to date, proves that, even though not perfect, the combined efforts of so many of our sector has been deliberate, while careful, in this COVID-19 environment,” the letter said.

According to the signatories of the letter, in the disaster risk management order dated July 31, the Government allowed, as of August 7, for tourists to leave their COVID-19-approved hotels, using similarly approved tourist transportation, to visit approved attractions — all while remaining within the resilient corridor, connected by point-to-point protocols, which ensures that these visitors will not exit the corridor into the general population prior to them completing the required 14-day quarantine period.

The three resilience corridors are located along the north coast, seaward side, from Negril to Port Antonio; the south coast, with specific locations from Bluefield’s Bay in Westmoreland, eastward to Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth and Mandeville; and New Kingston and its environs in Kingston.

The three tourism groups were, however, quick to point out that “the health and safety of our population is and must always be our priority”.

“We are proud that Jamaica was the first to unveil its COVID-19 Resilient Corridors, a concept developed to protect our citizens whilst restarting a much-needed phased tourism recovery, through tightly managed and enforced protocols in controlled geographic spaces,” the letter continued.

“As the world struggles to combat the effects of COVID-19, Jamaica has, over these last six months, emerged as a leader in the fight against this virus. Across the world, the decisiveness of the actions taken by our Government is being hailed as an example to be followed,” the groups said.

Also highlighted in the tourism stakeholders’ letter was the devastating 50 per cent decline in foreign exchange earnings caused by the tourism fallout, which has resulted in the Jamaican dollar plummeting to an all-time low of $150 to US$1.

“This will inevitably have adverse effects on prices of most consumer goods, including food and other services such as transportation for us as citizens. The negative effects on gross domestic product are already being felt, with even greater economic pain expected due to the loss of robust tourism activities. With almost 350,000 direct and indirect workers depending on tourism, we must do everything in our power to safely bring them back to work. We do this for them, their families and the country’s economic well-being,” the stakeholders said.

The groups believe the COVID-19 Resilient Corridor is a “revolutionary idea” that represents positive proof of concept.

“It works! We call on the Government to trust the corridors to work as designed, with the strongest of COVID-safety protocols, so that our workforce can continue to come back to work safely and to give the tourism sector a further chance to earn the desperately needed foreign exchange for the country,” they insisted.

They lamented that following extensive consultation with tourism players in the public and private sector, “a considerable amount of time, money and resources were put into implementing robust COVID-19 prevention protocols, which were and continue to be subjected to strong regulatory inspections”.

“The licensed hotels, attractions and tourist transport operators undertook a collective approach to construct this corridor and ensure it became a trusted and protected zone, comprising approximately 80 per cent of the island’s tourism businesses. Foreign or local visitors staying on the corridor are now, without doubt, experiencing the safest vacation spots anywhere in the world,” the letter read.

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