The Jamaica Product Exchange, also known as JAPEX, kicked off on Monday (Nov. 9) in a virtual setting, welcoming supplier and buyer delegates and travel agents from Canada, the United States, Latin America and Europe.
Jamaica's business event dedicated to building tourism business is typically held live in Jamaica but went digital this year due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.
JAPEX 2020, Nov. 9-10, promises two days of learning and business opportunities as seen in previous years.
It is the first year in JAPEX history that Jamaica’s Director of Tourism hasn’t been able to greet delegates in person.
“For that, my heart bleeds,” said Donovan White, director of tourism at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), at a media briefing on Monday morning. “But I’m happy we’re able to use technology in the way it has evolved in a short period of time.”
JAPEX 2020 is an interactive exhibition, incorporating elements of traditional trade shows, such as breakout and training sessions, a one-on-one Zoom meeting platform for pre-scheduled meetings with partners, a networking lounge and even a prize centre.
A record number of 2,000 travel agents registered for this year’s event, as well as more than 250 tour operators and 120 supplier countries with 220 delegates and 137 media outlets.
Addressing media Monday morning, Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett, noted how Jamaica’s reopening strategy revolves around health, safety and responsibility.
At the start of 2020, tourism in Jamaica was entering its tenth consecutive year of growth, the Minister explained.
The previous year, 2019, was record-breaking and the receipts for January and February 2020 indicated that tourism was growing at a rate of 5.2 per cent, he said.
Canadians do not need to present a negative COVID-19 test when visiting Jamaica (this only applies to high-risk countries, such as the United States).
Visitors do, however, need to fill out and submit a Travel Authorization Form five days ahead of their departure.
The previously-announced $40 entry fee may change
On Oct 26, tourism officials announced Jamaica Cares, a traveller protection program designed to given travellers peace of mind when visiting Jamaica.
The initiative has two components: an “all-hazards program” and a COVID-19-specific program.
Both parts consist of field rescue, emergency transport, advisory and oversight services from Global Rescue.
The all-hazards program includes evacuation logistics and response for all tourists in need of support for emergencies big and small.
The COVID-19 services includes rapid testing, treatment in Jamaica, including up to $50,000 in medical insurance coverage, access to Global Rescue workers in Jamaica, and up to $100,000 in international medical coverage to include medical costs that are incurred during travel home, repatriation and evacuations operations.
Initially, it was said this program would involve a mandatory entry fee of roughly $40 USD for tourists.
But Minister Bartlett said on Monday that this fee may change.
“A lot of tweaking is happening in relation to the cost,” Bartlett told journalists.
The Minister said one “big element” of Jamaica Cares is that it gives travellers access to repatriation flights in case there’s an emergency or if a visitor becomes ill.
The program does not cover trip cancellations or interruptions, such as baggage loss, Bartlett clarified.
“It covers medical and catastrophic events that happen while you’re here or on your way from home to Jamaica,” he said.
Bartlett suggested the new fee will be mandatory for tourists, pointing to the high costs associated with managing a global pandemic like COVID-19.
“It is impossible for recipient destinations – particularly small, beautiful countries that are highly tourism dependant, like those of us in the Caribbean…to be able to manage the full costs that COVID brings on those destinations.”
“This is an important way of tourism sharing to ensure that, overall, everybody will be able to manage the risk and protect themselves as well as their destinations.”
The rebound has started
Since Jamaica reopened to international tourism on June 15, the country has welcome more than 211,000 passengers, with June to September earnings amounting to 231.9 million USD, said Minister Bartlett.
By the end of September, year-over-year arrivals was down by more than 60 per cent, “but we’re starting to see positive signs of a rebound,” said Bartlett, noting that 30 per cent of workers have returned to their jobs,
Jamaica tourism is predicting a 40 per cent increase in arrivals over the coming months compared to arrivals seen since June, the Minister said.
Air Canada, WestJet and Sunwing have, notably, resumed service to the Caribbean country.
Increased flexibility within “Resilient Corridor”
In addition to implementing health and safety measures at the airport and at hotels, Jamaica has unrolled a “Resilient Corridor,” a geographical region running from Negril to Montego Bay and through to Ocho Rios and Port Antonio, that tourists must stay within.
This has given Jamaica greater control in managing the situation if and when there is a case of COVID-19 as officials can easily identify and isolate people as quickly as possible.
While travellers were initially bound to their resorts, tourism officials are now granting visitors the freedom to visit attractions using JTB-approved transportation, and visit multiple hotels during a single stay, within the corridor.
This, of course, is supported by widely-promoted COVID-19 prevention methods, such as increased physical distancing, wearing masks in public places, the installation of hand washing stations, and heightened cleaning procedures.
“Since the corridor was put into place, there have been no known cases of COVID-19 transmission in the area,” said Bartlett.
JAPEX 2020 runs until Nov. 10, 2020.
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