For the past four months, Jamaica’s robust tourist industry had virtually come to a grinding halt. Prior to Coronavirus, the island’s fragile tourist trade was enjoying consecutive quarters of growth. 2019 was a remarkable year for visitor arrivals and the month of December 2019 was record-breaking with 281,115 stopover arrivals to the island, representing an increase of 7.6% over the previous December.
Suddenly there was an unwelcome guest- Coronavirus. Jamaica fought back bravely, and in the aftermath of the lockdown, there is presently a steady resumption of air service into Kingston and Montego Bay from key markets – New York/ Newark, Miami, Orlando, Atlanta, Charlotte, Baltimore, Boston, Dallas, Houston and Toronto. United, Southwest, Caribbean Airlines, JetBlue, Delta, Spirit and American Airlines are all back at some level of operation.
“All our Couples Resorts opened on July 1 and we’ve had ample time to train out staff with the new Covid-19 realities”, Paul Issa, a marketing executive at Couples said.
Some Sandals properties are now open, and the Holiday Inn, the Half Moon, Round Hill, Hedonism 11 in Negril and the sprawling Palladium near Lucea are all bouncing back to life. Several Kingston hotels are receiving guests too. Among them, the Jamaica Pegasus, the Altamont Court, Terra Nova, the AC Marriott and the Courtyard Marriott.
But some major resorts and attractions are still closed, and several hoteliers say short term bookings are only at a trickle, but gradually building. Cruise shipping is on pause. And concerns about a dramatic increase in Covid-19 infections in some two dozen states including Florida, one of Jamaica’s most productive markets, is creating concern among loyal tour operators and travel agents who sell Jamaica.
The Jamaica Tourist Board is the well oiled machine that is tasked with driving travel business, and “putting heads to beds”. The JTB overseas marketing teams fully grasp the devastating effect that the fallout is having on thousands of tourists with vacations and weddings planned. The impact has also been felt by various related sectors on island- airport, resort and attraction workers, ground transportation providers, car rental companies, farmers who supply hotels, cambio operators and restaurants, bars and other places of entertainment. With this in mind, the marketing representatives across the Americas, including Canada, the United States and Latin America have been working relentlessly to build and sustain brand awareness for Destination Jamaica throughout the pandemic.
“Once we received word that Jamaica was closing her borders and travel would come to a halt, we immediately devised a plan to keep the brand alive with our travel agents, tour operators and our airline partners”, Donnie Dawson, deputy director of tourism for the Americas said. “It was important for us to maintain our strong travel trade relationships and keep Jamaica top of mind during the pandemic”, Dawson added.
Jamaica maintains relationships with over 40,000 high yielding travel agents across the USA and Canada, and the engagement with them began immediately, first with providing updated information on Destination Jamaica to help determine if travel clients should reschedule, cancel or seek refunds. The next step for the JTB marketing reps was to engage the thousands of agents in novel ways to keep the brand alive and jumping with excitement.
In the absence of in-person visits to travel agencies, service calls became telemarketing wellness calls. Trade seminars morphed into online training workshops. What would have normally been thank you functions for the trade turned into “Lively Chit Chat Zoom Calls”. Monthly webinars are now conducted bi-weekly, monthly eNewsletters are now produced weekly for increased connectivity, and social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn are now more important than ever to reach almost 40,000 weekly, with further amplification from email blasts.
Additionally, the JTB utilized an elaborate and exciting audio visual musical journey that chronicles the development of mento, ska, rock steady and reggae as a cultural magnet. Competitions were launched across key markets to place focus on Jamaica and these included the Treasure Hunt Trivia Series and the Picture Me in Jamaica Photo Contest. And for Travel Agent Day in May, the JTB partnered with Grace Foods USA to create a Jamaica Quiz Challenge. Successful participants won Grace food baskets loaded with Jamaican treats.
“Our activities have increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in fact we’ve never been busier, and our team continues to be the industry leader creating a kaleidoscope of activity”, Phillip Rose, JTB’s regional director for the Northeast revealed. “The global market has a big appetite for Jamaica and we continue to answer the call despite unprecedented times”.