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SHINING A LIGHT ON JAMAICA

With Jamaica having opened its borders to international visitors on June 15, the popular island destination continues to make progress towards a semblance of normalcy in the face of the debilitating coronavirus pandemic. Here’s a look at some of the latest on-island news, shared during a recent Zoom “speed-dating” session with the JTB and some of its suppliers and partners, including hoteliers, attractions and MBJ:

Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB)

A series of virtual online and social media opportunities continue to help keep “the fervour of travel alive” for past and potential visitors and give people “a taste of what’s awaiting them,” says Director of Tourism Donovan White. The DoT cites cooking demonstrations, fitness and yoga sessions, live DJ parties, and the “Chill Like a Jamaican” campaign with local entertainers, as well as virtual tours and a Blue Mountain coffee series, amongst other endeavours, as part of the campaign to ensure that “inventive and innovative, yet authentic rhythms of Jamaica shine through despite our physical distancing…”

A series of fundamental health and safety tenets have also been introduced to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Among the ongoing island-wide protocols:

• Enhanced sanitization for workers, tourists, and surroundings
• Mask requirements
• Physical distancing
• Frequent communications and transparency
• Enhanced digital enablement across the industry for more contactless transactions
• Real-time health monitoring, reporting and rapid containment solutions in event of a positive test
• Training tourism workers and communities

“We cannot eliminate risk entirely until there’s a vaccine, so we must strategically manage and mitigate the risks,” says White.

Arrival Experience

Sangster International Airport (MBJ): Sharon Hislop, manager of business development and marketing of the Montego Bay airport, notes that the facility welcomes 70% of arrivals to Jamaica. Currently everyone entering the country is subject to the following protocols:

• Complete an online Travel Authorization at least five days prior to arrival

• Undergo screening upon arrival via thermal temperature checks, symptom observation and interview with a health officer.

• Leisure travellers from areas not currently designated as high risk (including Canada) may be subject to swab testing based on symptoms or responses to the risk assessment.

• Those with negative results or not tested must adhere to the Stay in Zone order, which requires persons to remain at their hotel or resort within the Resilient Corridor for the duration of their stay.

• Those who show symptoms will be subject to additional swab testing and must quarantine in their hotel room until test results are available.

Hislop lists other COVID-related changes: reconfigured arrivals hall and plexiglass installation for social distancing, access limited to necessary personnel only, increased WiFi bandwidth, touchless transactions, enhanced sanitation of high touch points, and temperature checks for airport staff. The facility is currently operating at about 25% capacity (15-20 flights/day) and has streamlined initial procedures to enable arrivals to pass through in under an hour in some cases. But while they do wait, “stress-reducing” measures, such as reggae music and entertainment are being conducted.

For departures, online check-in is encouraged. Shops and retailers in the airport remain open.

VIP Experiences (Club Mobay & Club Kingston): Nicholas Watson, head of sales, says the airport’s meet-and-greet service is ideal during the pandemic by whisking travellers through the airport (including customs) in only 30 minutes.

As for lounges, a full of suite of safety protocols have been implemented, including enhanced cleaning, limited capacity, social distancing, mask requirements, a la carte and prepacked food service (buffet removed) and the ability for both small and larger groups to pre-book seating. All delivered with a “smile extended up to the hairline.”

Sandals Chapel

Accommodations

Sandals: Since “love is not cancelled” neither are weddings during the pandemic, says Marsha-Ann Brown, Director of Romance for Sandals and Beaches. Granted they are occurring in reduced numbers for obvious reasons, she says, but notes that the resorts had conducted close to 60 matrimonial events since its hotels began reopening in June (three are now open) through the end of July. Brown says an 18-point pandemic protocol list is in place for guests, from arrival to ceremony and everything in between. She also notes that ceremonies are generally held outdoors.

At the same time, Sandals has instituted comprehensive rebooking options for those that need, or choose, to change their dates, without cancelling.

A trend that Brown has noticed is that some clients are coming to the island for the ceremony with a smaller group and postponing the bigger party until later at home, she says, adding, “Love must go on!”

Sandals has six resorts on the island: the fourth, Sandals Ochi is scheduled to open Sept. 3, while South Coast and Royal Plantation are due in early October.

Jamaica Inn: “Phones are ringing, we’re going to be full, including some overseas bookings,” says general manager Kyle Mais of the recently re-opened Ocho Rios resort (July 31). Going forward, he says bookings are steady, even if, at this point, mostly from locals.

Mais says the resort took the opportunity of the “unprecedented hiatus” brought on by the pandemic to make some general overall improvements beyond required COVID measures at the Inn, which has catered to a luxury crowd (including Marilyn Monroe on her honeymoon) for over 60 years.

They include a new reservation system for the resort’s two restaurants and an improved in-room dining experience, featuring a more restaurant-style course-by-course serving. “We feel we’ve lifted the sophistication of the whole experience,” says Mais.

Skylark Negril Beach Resort: Oliver Cargill, Skylark’s restaurant manager credits the JTB with doing a great job educating visitors to Jamaica about what to expect when they arrive and what their responsibilities are, “which makes it very easy for (us) to reiterate those policies.”

Specifically, Skylark has only 21 of 28 rooms open, leaving some empty and a few others for quarantine (as required by government regulation) with similar limited capacity at its restaurant. Pandemic protocols start at the airport transfer with enhanced vehicle sanitization and continue with screened check-in, sanitized luggage, limited staff interaction where possible, and a WhatsApp group for guests to communicate with other guests and hotel managers if they choose. Staff training has been the key, says Cargill, noting that when employees feel safe and are comfortable in their jobs, they will easily engage with guests and provide the best service levels they can.

Attractions

Mystic Mountain Jamaica: The popular Ocho Rios rainforest attraction is hoping to be able to welcome international hotel guests this month (with Wednesday opening dates, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.) according to director of resort sales Marsha Esmie. When they do arrive, guests will discover the new Ragamuffin ride (opened July 21) – a twisting, turning, swinging roller coaster that takes guests 150 m. into the air before coming back down. MM also features a 215-m. SkyExplorer chairlift ride, Jamaican bobsled ride, and ziplining (12 lines, including new challenge course), climbing wall, ATVs, waterslide, infinity pool, hummingbird garden and museum. Mystic Mountain encompasses two parks in one location (Ragamuffin is located in Reggae Reach). Pandemic protocols, including electrostatic cleaning, are in effect and temperature check and mask required.

Mystic Mountain Jamaica

First published at Travel Industry Today

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