Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett, was in Toronto on Friday (March 25) to announce a new partnership with George Brown College, which will become the first Canadian partner to open a “satellite” office with Jamaica’s Global Tourism Resilience and Crisis Management Centre (GTRCMC).
The GTRCMC, which opened in 2018 by Minister Bartlett and former Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization Dr. Taleb Rafai, is a “global think tank” that focuses on building resilience and managing crises that disrupt tourism.
Minister Bartlett, alongside George Brown’s President Dr. Gervan Fearon, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to formalize the agreement, which will bring Canadian-based research, policy advocacy, communication management, program/project design, and training, to GTRCMC’s global tourism initiatives.
The GTRCMC, which is based at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, was born out of a need to build capacity for when disruptions occur, and so destinations can “mitigate, manage, recover quickly and thrive afterwards,” Minister Bartlett told attendees at a ceremony held at the Jamaican Canadian Association Hall in North York, ON.
Minister Bartlett was also in town to attend an event marking Jamaica’s 60th Diamond Jubilee on Saturday at the Toronto Event Centre.
"Tourism is the most resilient of all industries"
All kinds of forces can disrupt tourism, from hurricanes to earthquakes to terrorist attacked to economic downturns to pandemics, one of which the world has endured for more than two years now.
Jamaica’s centre develops models for preparedness, management and recovery from tourism disruption, which can also threaten economies and livelihoods.
As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its second year, and as regions now deal with the economic fallout from the war in Eastern Europe, the GTRCMC’s work has never been more urgent and relevant.
“Never before in history have we had a pandemic or global disruption that effective every corner of the world simultaneously,” Minister Bartlett said, speaking about COVID-19 specifically.
As Minister of a tourism-dependant country, Bartlett stressed the importance of framing tourism as a “driver for transformation.”
“Tourism is the most resilient of all industries,” Bartlett said. “It bounces back faster than any other.”
That level of resiliency, in turn, enables tourism to become a desired sector for recovery, he explained.
“Even today, as we see recovery emerge from the pandemic, tourism is at the centre of that process,” Bartlett said.
Tourism, as a “series of moving parts,” is the “most potent” for consumption, driving economic activity, revenue and enabling growth, he said.
Partnering with George Brown will further GTRCMC’s mission, so when global disruptions hit, “the discussion turns to resilience,” Minister Bartlett said, noting the importance of linking tourism with academia “where ideas can flourish.”
As COVID-19 has touched all corners of the planet, it’s a topic that more destinations are embracing, Minister Bartlett said.
“Nobody expected a global pandemic of this nature. Nobody was prepared for it. Even our scientists, who have been studying and researching, had no solution,” Minister Bartlett said. “We are in that process of getting to an understanding that we need to be prepared. And resilience is now resonating, [globally].”
In addition to George Brown in Toronto, the GTRCMC has also opened centres in Bulgaria, Namibia, Nigeria, Botswana and Ghana, and is looking to expand to Florida, Hong Kong and London.
Angella Bennett, regional director for the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB) in Canada, said the Toronto-based chapter will study topics like economic growth, cyber security, entrepreneurship and best practices, which are all things that will help Jamaica’s tourism recovery.
“Resilient tourism is what has brought Jamaica through the pandemic successfully,” Bennett told PAX.
Jamaica’s Resilient Corridor, a designated "safe bubble" on the island for tourists where COVID-19 health and safety protocols are practiced, was a direct product of the GTRCMC, for example.
“The [corridor] was a lifeline that saved Jamaica’s tourism and allowed us to actually invite guests to the island,” Bennett said.
The exchange of research between Canada, Jamaica, and the Caribbean at large will “definitely improve of what we have as a tourism product,” she said.
Pre-entry testing being reviewed
As for what Jamaica’s tourism recovery looks like right now, Bennett described it as “amazing.”
“The hotels have very good occupancy and we have several things lifted, [such as] the travel authorization and quarantine on arrival [protocols],” Bennett said.
One measure the Jamaican government is reviewing is the requirement to show a negative antigen test prior to entry.
“That is being reviewed right now,” Bennett said, saying that an update could come as soon as April 15.
Pre-entry tests for entering Jamaica must be conducted by a lab – such as the ones at Shoppers Drug Mart – as home-test kits (such as the ones sold by Switch Health) are not recognized by Jamaican authorities.
Locally, there is now less hold from the Jamaican government in terms of how COVID-19 protocols are enforced.
Mask wearing, for example, is strongly recommended, but not mandatory, Bennett said.
So if someone tests positive for COVID in Jamaica, they can now self-isolate in their rooms instead of going to a government facility, she said.
That said: “We’re still encouraging hotels to practice protocols,” Bennett noted.
The rise in fuel costs has also led to increased pricing on packages in Jamaica.
“It’s a real concern, but we’re seeing a record number of bookings going to destination,” Bennett said. “Jamaica is sitting very well for winter.”
The country’s 60th independence anniversary will see year-long celebrations taking place on the island.
“In Canada, the diaspora community is ramping up to go down and celebrate,” Bennett said.
Demand from the luxury market also continues to drive Jamaica’s tourism recovery, she said.
“But there is also a good buy across the board with different categories of hotels,” she said. “We have all-inclusive hotels that are doing very, very well with families.”
The demand, Bennett said, has been growing consistently ever since the Government of Canada, last month, announced the end of pre-entry testing for fully vaccinated travellers – a change that takes effect April 1.
“That was the best news ever,” Bennett said.