WESTERN BUREAU: The cumulative effect of the very strong COVID-19 protocols being implemented by source markets Canada and the United Kingdom (UK) will have a deleterious effect on Jamaica’s winter tourist season recovery prospects and may stretch even into summer, says Tourism Minister Edmund Bartlett.
The UK and Canada have now blocked travel to and from the Caribbean and Mexico, in an attempt to arrest the spread of the coronavirus, and there is fear that US President Joe Biden will implement rules that will cause further disruption for the tourism-dependent countries.
In fact, Bartlett, yesterday gave some frightening numbers, which have realistically pushed any thoughts of a start of a rebound of the industry into as far as winter 2021-2022.
Bartlett revealed that the huge fallouts in the Caribbean, comprising job displacement and foreign exchange earnings since March 2020, equate to over one million people and in excess of US$25 billion.
Countries such as Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Cuba have had the largest fallout in absolute amounts, but falling not far behind are the smaller and more highly tourism-dependent countries such as Antigua and Barbuda, and St Lucia.
In Jamaica, the situation is as such, “We have had a cumulative loss of approximately J$109 billion from retained visitor expenditure. The projected retained visitor expenditure was $146 billion, and the actual expenditure was J$36.5 billion,” said the tourism minister.
Jamaica, he said, has lost over 100,000 jobs, and the critical Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF), which was projected to collect J$5.7 billion between March and December, actually collected a mere $934 million, holding a shortfall of $4.8 billion.
The situation was just as bad for the anticipated airport charges and taxes, which were estimated at $28 billion but only filled the coffers with $4.6 billion.
As for General Consumption Tax (GCT) for tourism, the Government projected $4 billion in revenue but collected only J$512 million between March and December, and the GART (Guest Accommodation Room Tax), which was expected to bring in $2.3 billion, only brought in $304 million.
Overall, the country will face a huge loss of J$37 billion in taxes, said Bartlett.
STEEPEST LOSS IN CRUISE SHIPPING
As devastating as the land-based tourism sector numbers were, cruise shipping experienced the steepest loss, owing to the fact that the island had little or no visitors from that part of the industry. Bartlett told The Sunday Gleaner that the projection was J$2.9 billion but the country collected only J$2.7 million.
“These numbers show the actual direct revenue that would have gone to the economy,” he explained and added that the expenditure is another thing – money spent at attractions and restaurants or in transportation.
Jamaica, he said, is losing its winter season completely, as the projections of a 40 per cent recovery have been erased by what is happening in the market, and currently the occupancy levels are at 20 per cent.
Acknowledging how difficult a period this will be for the sector, Bartlett said it should be used to build capacity. He called for a greater level of collaboration between the hoteliers, banks, Government and all the other entities in the country.
Worldwide, tourism has lost US$1.1 trillion since the COVID-19 pandemic, and between 100 and 150 million jobs were lost or are at risk.
It is against that background that he is quite concerned about these very strong measures from the region’s source markets, measures he said he knows are geared to enable them to have a better handle on the pandemic, but, with unintended consequences, are putting small and developing countries like Jamaica at great economic risk.
He cautioned that it was time the world began to understand that poverty among the smaller economies was going to grow exponentially, because there was no way the global economy can contract by five to six percent and the vulnerable countries are not significantly impacted.
“It is going to have enormous implications for our poverty management,” said Bartlett.
However, he was quick to reiterate that tourism is a resilient industry and has bounced back and grown exponentially after every mega disruption since 1918.
“What we are asking for is forbearance and understanding overall as we carefully manage these assets, which we still have, and build capacity where we can, because every adversity brings opportunity,” he stated.