Jamaica's Challenge: Balancing “Passion Points” With Health Protocols

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

As Jamaica began welcoming back visitors last month, the tourism sector tackled the challenge of ensuring strict health protocols do not interfere with the ability to experience the island’s unique culture. 

During a recent virtual press conference hosted by the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), it was clear that introducing necessary barriers such as social distancing challenge the island’s cherished ‘One Love’ image.

Tourism officials and local suppliers provided Open Jaw with an overview of the changes visitors can expect to see. 

"Today with our borders open to international travellers, we have a new focus: finding innovative yet authentic ways to ensure that the ribbons of Jamaica shine through in spite of our physical distanced realities as we prioritize the health and safety of our own citizens, tourism workers, their families and our international guests," said Donovan White, JTB Director, in his welcome address.

"Jamaica is known as a larger than life destination because of our culture, our personalized service, our music, attractions and food. We know these are the passion points that visitors desire most when they come to our shores and it's crucial that we preserve these experiences in their natural form as best as we can."

Donovan White, Director of Tourism, Jamaica Tourist Board

pJamaica has implemented enhanced health and safety protocols throughout all touchpoints of a visitor's journey, with measures such as enhanced sanitization, face masks requirements for staff and visitors, physical distancing rules, real-time health monitoring and rapid response protocols.

"We cannot eliminate the risk entirely until there is mass access to a vaccine for COVID-19 so for now, we must use our available resources to strategically manage and mitigate the risk as we restart our economy and come back to full productivity and capacity as quickly as possible," White stated.

Open Jaw had a (virtual) speed-date with six suppliers in breakout sessions. Here are the salient points of what we learned:

MBJ Airports - Sharon Hislop-Holt, Manager, Commercial Business Development & Marketing

All arriving passengers must complete a Travel Authorization form and present a printed or digital copy at boarding. Besides mandatory masks, social distancing requirements and increased sanitation measures, the airport is also performing thermal scanning and health screening of all arriving passengers. 

MBJ is currently receiving 25% of flights compared to last year, says Hislop-Holt. From Canada, Air Canada is flying to MBJ twice a week and WestJet is expected to restart on 07AUG.

VIP Experiences (Club Mobay & Club Kingston) – Nicholas Watson, International Head of Sales 

VIP Experiences provides arrival and departure services for guests at MBJ and KIN.

As part of the arrival service, an agent personally meets guests when they land and escorts them through immigration using dedicated VIP lines.

"Nowhere else in the Caribbean can you find this – only in Jamaica. Now more than ever, visitors want to spend the least amount of time in immigration and customs. They want to be expedited because it allows them to be on the beach in no time," Watson said.

For the departure service, the Club Mobay and Club Kingston departure lounges offer complimentary food and beverage, wi-fi, and a relaxing, premium space.

Reservations are required as the lounges are operating at reduced capacity, and the self-serve food and beverage options have been replaced by a la carte and prepacked meals.

Sandals - Marsha-Ann Donaldson-Brown, Director of Romance

Sandals Montego Bay

Sandals Montego Bay, Sandals Royal Caribbean, as well as Sandals and Beaches Negril have reopened for guests and accepting wedding reservations.

The Sandals Wedding Planning Tool allows clients to virtually plan their wedding to get a taste of what they will experience. As for trends, Donaldson-Brown says couples are now looking for smaller, more intimate weddings.

Skylark Hotel - Oliver Cargill, Restaurant Manager, Miss Lily’s Negril at Skylark

Skylark Hotel (sister property to Rockhouse Negril) is open and welcoming guests. Guests are required to wear masks when moving around the property's public spaces (not at restaurants or the beach).

Educating Skylark and Miss Lily staff on the coronavirus was key to ensuring they can still extend that warm "irie" vibe to guests.

"We worried that staff would fear COVID so much that it would take away from who they are in service. So we educated teams on what COVID is and how it's spread. We found the more they understood the virus and how it spread, the more comfortable they felt to work. So these protocols have become second nature to them, and they can still maintain that Jamaican warmth," Cargill said.

At this time, 23 of the hotel's 28 rooms are available for booking.

Kyle Mais – Jamaica Inn, General Manager

The 55-key Jamaica Inn, located on Jamaica's north coast, is reopening on 31JUL. Masks will be required only indoors and when moving about the property's public spaces (not in restaurants or the beach).

Canadian travellers typically account for approximately 10% of bookings, he said.

Mystic Mountain - Marsha Esmie, Director, Resort Sales

Located in Ocho Rios, the Mystic Mountain attraction park launched a new ride this month, the Raggamuffin.

Mystic Mountain is open to guests in Jamaican resorts on Wednesdays, and a special promo package is running through OCT. Reservations are required at this time, as the park is operating at limited capacity.

The park conducts temperature checks on all guests and masks are mandatory. Rides are cleaned with an electrostatic spray system between rides.

Agents can earn 20% commission on sales, said Esmie.

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry

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