Jamaica reopening for visitors: 'we're prepared and ready'

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Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica's minister of tourism, center, bumps elbows with American Capt. Shaun Nelson and first officer Bethoya Powell, who flew the first commercial flight into Sangster airport in three months.
Edmund Bartlett, Jamaica's minister of tourism, center, bumps elbows with American Capt. Shaun Nelson and first officer Bethoya Powell, who flew the first commercial flight into Sangster airport in three months.
Gay Nagle Myers
Gay Nagle Myers

Donovan White, Jamaica's director of tourism, was a happy man when I spoke by phone with him on June 15.

He was driving the new highway between Kingston and Montego Bay, en route to Sangster Airport to meet up with minister of tourism Edmund Bartlett and other tourism officials to welcome an American Airlines flight from Miami, the first commercial flight from the U.S. since Covid-19 shut down the borders in March.

The initial frequencies call for six flights a week into Montego Bay from the U.S.  and two a week into Kingston from Canada.

"It's been a long three months for everyone, but Jamaica is prepared and ready to host our visitors," White said.

"Like the rest of the world we've been severely impacted by the global pandemic, but we are reopening in phases in a cautious, responsible manner and have in place measures to increase destination assurance."

Phase one of the reopening covers the 170-mile coastal tourist corridor between Negril on the northwest coast and Port Antonio on the northeast coast with Montego Bay and Ocho Rios in between.

"It's a very focused area, it's where many of our resorts and villas are," he said.

White said several properties have been assessed and cleared for opening by the Tourism Product Development Co., an entity overseen by the Ministry of Tourism that facilitates the maintenance and development the island's tourism product, "meaning the properties have met a rigorous set of health standards." That includes receiving the Covid-19 Readiness Certificate, which certifies that, among other things, the property is abiding by Covid-related protocols set out by the Health Department.

The hotels include Beaches Negril, Sandals Montego Bay, the S Hotel, Moon Palace Ocho Rios, Beachcomber Villas and the Deja Resort.

Phase two will cover accommodations in Kingston and environs.

  • Related: When are Caribbean islands reopening for tourism? View our map.

Airbnb listings, for now, have not been included in the tourist corridor. "They are spread out throughout the country, and not many are along the coastal route," White said. "By July 1, there will be a significant more hotels and resorts added. Assessments are taking place now."

Jamaica's extensive set of health and safety protocols runs to eight chapters and 120 pages with detailed entry and screening procedures. All visitors are required to get an online pre-approval authorization issued 72 hours before arrival.

They must produce this approval when they check in at their departure gateway.

"If a visitor doesn't have this approval, they won't be allowed to board their flight," White said. "The sole use of this information is to assist with the risk assessment of all travelers to Jamaica.

"Bear with us," he added. "We are all learning to live with Covid. There's a demand for travel, but we must be vigilant and manage and mitigate the risks as we restart our economy."

All visitors must wear face masks in public areas and observe social distancing.

Jamaica's popular tourist attractions have not yet reopened.

"We will see how the protocols are working and then expand with more reopenings of properties, businesses and attractions," White said.

Indications from hotel partners regarding bookings are "very favorable," according to the director.

"There are signs that the recovery is beginning," He said. "We're encouraged, and the forecast for fall and winter shows some appetite for travel, although certainly not at the same levels as in the past.

"We're prepared once again to open our hearts to the world."

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