Canadian travel advisors are hitting some serious home runs in travel bookings this upcoming fall and winter season, the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) says.
Speaking to PAX at the Toronto Blue Jays-Baltimore Orioles game at the Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto on Saturday (Oct. 2), where the JTB hosted media for an afternoon of pizza, wings and pro baseball, Dan Hamilton, the JTB’s district sales manager for Canada, said there’s a “new confidence” sweeping the marketplace right now as COVID-19 vaccination rates climb.
As a result, the JTB is seeing a “more robust picture” of Canadians booking travel to Jamaica this year and into 2022.
“We’re very optimistic,” Hamilton told PAX at the game (which saw Toronto dominate Baltimore in a 10-1 win). “We have lots of groups booked for the first and second quarter of next year. Many postponed a year ago and now they feel comfortable again.”
February and March of 2022, in particular, “is very busy,” Hamilton said.
Saturday’s gathering capped a week of partner engagement for the JTB as Director of Tourism, Donovan White, and Jamaica's Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett, were in town to connect with media and travel partners.
Encouraging vaccinations was one of Minister’s Bartlett’s main messages during the visit, relayed Angella Bennett, regional director of tourism for Canada at the JTB, because “we cannot have a safe and seamless tourism recovery without vaccinated customers.”
“This is something [Minister Bartlett] feels very strongly about,” Bennett told PAX. “We cannot give a great vacation to sick people.”
Last month, the Jamaican government announced a Tourism Vaccination Task Force as part of a goal to vaccinate all tourism workers in the country.
Under the leadership of Minister Bartlett, the team has held vaccination blitzes across the island and has several more planned.
Almost 50 per cent of Jamaica’s tourism workers are now vaccinated, Bennett said, saying this number will likely grow to 85 per cent by the end of this year.
“We have to get our country ready,” she said. “Tourism is our lifeline. It’s our economic driver. Without it, we will not survive this pandemic.”
“We’re in this together and the only way it will work is if everybody gets vaccinated.”
Jamaica’s Resilient Corridors – designated sections for tourists that has been designed to encourage safe tourism practices – is also driving the market’s confidence in feeling safe in destination.
“This is our safe bubble in Jamaica,” Bennett said. “It’s our strong commitment to the trade that we have done everything in our powers to make the transition through this pandemic as safe and seamless as possible.”
“People can come to Jamaica and feel comfortable knowing they are being handled by the best protocols in place.”
“The phones are ringing”
With Canada’s vaccination rate still climbing (roughly 80 per cent of the country is now fully vaxxed), “the phones are ringing” as more customers put their trust in Jamaica, Bennett said.
Currently, Jamaica, with the support of all major Canadian carriers, has secured 85 per cent of its air capacity compared to 2019, Bennett said.
“We’re seeing a good momentum for winter,” she said. “Groups are coming in strong. We’re seeing a lot of family travel and honeymooners who delayed their trips. The wedding market is also coming back.”
For decades, Jamaica has established itself as a leading destination for weddings and romance getaways. Last February, the JTB launched a microsite, called “My Heart Beats JA,” creating a one-stop shop for all things love with easy-to-find supplier options and solutions.
During the pandemic, several brands in Jamaica have launched virtual concierge services that allow guests to meet one-on-one with wedding planners on the island, remotely, to plan their big day, Bennett said.
In general, Canadian spending habits are changing too, Bennett said.
“They’re looking for luxury and they’re willing to spend a little bit more,” she said. “This is very encouraging.”
Irie Hour Live!
The COVID-19 pandemic may have thrown the travel industry a curve ball, but the JTB has not struck out in its commitment to staying engaged with the trade.
Between ongoing webinars, a virtual product showcase and its regular Irie Hour “chill and chat” forum on Zoom, the JTB “did not go dark,” as Hamilton puts it.
“Part of our mandate, regardless of what’s happening, is to keep our retail partners and consumers informed,” Hamilton told PAX in between stadium cheers as the Jays hit a series of homers.
And much like inviting partners to hang out at a baseball game, the JTB is looking to bring back some normalcy to the way it engages with the industry – at the end of the month, 50 travel advisors will join the JTB on a special “Irie Hour FAM” in Jamaica.
During the FAM, which runs from Oct. 23 to 29, an itinerary of hotel stays and island tours will lead up to a special encore edition of “Irie Hour Live” from Jamaica, which will feature bartending, cooking and dancing competitions, as well as guests who have previously appeared on the show.
“I’m telling you man, it’s going to be super," Hamilton said.