Monday,  January 25, 2021  1:19 am

JAPEX2020: “We are ready”: JTB’s Angella Bennett on welcoming Canadians back to Jamaica

JAPEX2020: “We are ready”: JTB’s Angella Bennett on welcoming Canadians back to Jamaica
Angella Bennett, regional director – Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board at JAPEX2020.
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Jamaica is open. It’s ready for tourists. And it will take very good care of them.

That’s one key message that Angella Bennett, regional director – Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), hopes travel agents, suppliers, buyers and media took from this year’s Jamaica Product Exchange, also known as JAPEX. 

Considered Jamaica’s leading trade event dedicated to generating tourism business, JAPEX is typically held live, in person, at venues in Jamaica.

However, this year’s event – JAPEX’s 30th anniversary, notably – was held virtually, for the first time, due to pandemic-related challenges.

Held on an interactive platform from Nov 9-10, JAPEX 2020 still delivered the same business opportunities as seen in previous years and, according to Bennett, the show reached record-breaking engagement.

“It’s been phe-nom-en-al! You can put that in bold,” an elated Bennett told PAX via Zoom call on Tuesday morning (Nov 10) at the start of Day Two. “The platform is very alive and buzzing. We saw almost 13,000 views of all the things we were doing. It has exceeded my expectations.”

As outlined on Monday at a media briefing, JAPEX Live 2020 welcomed 2,000 travel agents (setting a new record), 250 tour operators and 120 supplier countries with 220 delegates and 137 media outlets. 

A “beautiful” marketplace

JAPEX is presented by the Jamaica Hotel & Tourist Association in partnership with the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB). 

This year’s expo incorporated elements seen at pre-pandemic trade shows, such as breakout and training sessions, a one-on-one Zoom meeting platform for pre-scheduled meetings with partners, live entertainment, a networking lounge and even a prize centre.

There was an “Exhibition Hall” featuring interactive booths, offering sharable content and chat functions to participants, which included tour operators, hoteliers, attractions, air partners, travel agents and media.

The show floor, too, included an interactive map of Jamaica – Negril, South Coast, Montego Bay, Ocho Rios, Kingston, and Portland – and attendees could watch informative videos as they entered each region.

“It was a marketplace,” said Bennett. “It was so beautiful.”

“Love is not cancelled”

The lively breakout sessions featured panel discussions, interviews and presentations.

Topics covered included romance, luxury, adventure, health and wellness, family travel, and Jamaica’s road to recovery amid the pandemic.

Bennett led one presentation on Monday, sharing her expertise on Jamaica’s romance market (a category of travel that she is personally passionate about).

The key takeaway from her session?

“Love is not cancelled,” she said. “You can have a beautiful resort destination wedding, even during these pandemic times.”

Bennett pointed to Jamaica’s luxury resorts, and how all of the properties currently serving tourists have extensive protocols in place to handle weddings.

“There’s enough space to be outside for social weddings and practice social distancing at cocktail receptions,” she said, listing off some examples. “If your family can’t be with you [in destination], they’ll arrange a Zoom call.”

Supported by virtual consultations, “We have not missed a beat in getting information to brides,” said Bennett.

No known cases in resilience corridor

Jamaica has a “Resilient Corridor,” a region running from Negril to Montego Bay and through to Ocho Rios and Port Antonio, that tourists must stay within.

The corridor has been praised for managing COVID-19 if, by chance, there is an outbreak because it gives officials the ability to identify and isolate people as quickly as possible.

All hotels in the corridor must be certified and approved by Jamaica’s Tourism Product Development code.

“There has been no known case of a COVID-19 transmission within the resilience corridor,” said Bennett. “This is a safe bubble for us and a safe space to accommodate a wedding.”

While tourists were originally bound to resorts, the corridor has loosened some restrictions, allowing travellers to explore off property, visit JTB-approved attractions and stay at multiple hotels, if they wish.

“If a couple wants to do wedding on one property and do their honeymoon at another, they’re able to do that,” said Bennett.

Bennett said as Jamaica expands its World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC)-approved protocols, the country will, over time, open up more attractions, shopping centres and experiences.

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).

All visitors do, however, need to fill out and submit a Travel Authorization Form five days ahead of their departure.

Jamaica Cares – “more than insurance”

Jamaica Cares is a traveller protection program designed to given travellers peace of mind when visiting Jamaica. It's expected to launch at the end of November. 

The initiative has an “all-hazards program” (ie: evacuation logistics) and a COVID-19-specific arm.

The COVID-19 services include 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.

Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett at JAPEX 2020.

But Jamaica’s Minister of Tourism, the Hon. Edmund Bartlett, said on Monday that this fee might change as the program is still being tweaked.

“This is more than insurance,” Bennett told PAX. “It’s a protection service provided in a private-public partnership, facilitated by the government.”

Bennett reiterated that the program will be mandatory for tourists.

“It is taking protocols to the next level,” she said. “It’s about creating a service that makes you feel comfortable from the moment you board your plane to the moment you return home.”

“Managing a pandemic and outbreak in Jamaica is critical. As a small country, we wouldn’t be able to manage a widespread breakout of a pandemic. This is another layer of protection to ensure we can provide a safe, seamless vacation for any traveller.”

Lift is going well

Sunwing recently resumed its operations to Jamaica, offering direct flights from Toronto to Montego Bay on Fridays and Saturdays; service is offered from Montreal also.

Air Canada and WestJet also serve Jamaica and Transat will start flying to Montego Bay on Dec. 20, 2020.

“Their first flight is sold out,” said Bennett, referring to Transat. “It’s a mixed flight of Jamaica diaspora and hotel bookings.”

Swoop, which originally flew out of Hamilton, ON, but is now positioned at Toronto Pearson, also has a Montego Bay service “that is going very well,” said Bennett.

If Sunwing extends its Jamaica service to Calgary and Edmonton in 2021, Bennett said Jamaica’s numbers out of Canada could potentially surpass 400,000 seats this winter.

From June to September, 2020, Jamaica saw 114 international arrivals, which included 8,400 from Canada.

Minister Bartlett said Jamaica has started to see positive signs of a rebound, predicting a 40 per cent increase in arrivals in the coming months.

While Canada’s 14-day quarantine order is still a major barrier for travellers (and travel agents), the trade community, thanks to JAPEX 2020, is “ready” to start selling Jamaica again, said Bennett.

“There is a ton of optimism,” she said. “Agents are ready to sell, and they’re hoping this quarantine gets lifted or reduced.”

“We are ready.”

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