Many destinations have had the difficult task of balancing reopening borders to tourism while also maintaining safety for residents and visitors due to the continued threat of the coronavirus. Jamaica has been a leading example, enabling travelers to visit in a responsible manner while creating a seamless travel experience.
Since reopening to international tourism over a month ago, tourism entities have been working tirelessly with the Jamaica Tourist Board, along with extensive consultations with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, worker unions, and more to build a set of protocols.
“We cannot eliminate risk entirely. So for now we must use our available resources to manage the risks as we restart our economy. This must be done in the safest way possible,” said Donavan White, director of tourism, on a recent media webinar.
“Now we have a new focus, coming up with new ways to shine Jamaica’s passion points that visitors’ desire: music, culture, food, while we prioritize health and safety of our citizens and guests,” Donavan White, director of tourism, added.
Upon arrival at the Sangster International Airport, passengers will see plexiglas shields at customer-facing areas, the utilization of monitors with reminders to keep six feet apart, and enhanced cleaning of high touch points, such as self-service kiosks and escalators.
There’s also the use of a thermal scanning machine on arrival, which had been in place prior to the pandemic, but is now used for all arrivals. Pre-testing is available for some, but for those coming from high-risk areas (currently New York, Arizona, Texas Florida), will be required to undergo testing at airport. All visitors traveling also are required to apply for a Travel Authorization no more than five days prior to arrival.
Sharon Hislop-Holt, manager of commercial business development and marketing at MBJ Airports Limited, said the arrival process was restructured to facilitate the health screenings, and the wait time was cut down to one hour. While flight capacity is only 25% compared to last year, all 18 gates are open to ensure social distancing of passengers moving into the hall.
Most of the major airlines serving the destination including American Airlines, Delta and JetBlue have begun operating with limited service.
Similarly, resorts are doing whatever necessary to manage both safety and guest satisfaction.
Sandals Resorts safety protocols extend across 18 touch points, from arrivals straight to the spa and everywhere in between.
“From a wedding standpoint we want to emphasize it’s our duty that we space everything out to accommodate the new guidelines,” said Marsha-Ann Brown, director of romance for Sandals Resorts.
“One of the biggest benefits we have is the ability for us to be able to host so much outdoors.” Capacity at wedding venues, like the overwater Chapel, have been reduced by 50% to allow for the distancing of chairs. While Brown noted “we’re not finding the large group traveling like they once did,” the largest venue even at reduced capacity can still hold about 50 people.
Another change to the wedding program is buffets have been replaced with a la carte dining, or if a party had a pre-selected buffet there will be a plated meal in its place.
Brown said that guests who had booked trips have opted to postpone, rather than cancel. “On the horizon, future bookings are already looking healthy, with planning 6-12 months out. Folks really want to take that trip – there’s an eagerness, they want to be out on the beach, they want this escape, and to have that experience,”
Sandals operates six resorts in Jamaica, with three currently open: Sandals Montego Bay, Sandals Royal Caribbean, and Sandals Negril. Sandals Ochi is slated to reopen Sept. 3, followed by Sandals South Coast on Oct. 1 and Sandals Royal Plantation on Oct. 8.
Jamaica Inn is celebrating its official reopening Friday, July 31, after a three-month closure.
“We’re ready for quests to return, the pent up demand has been overwhelming with emails, and it’s good to say we’ve received some bookings, a small, but steady amount,” GM Kyle Mais said. The resort is only at 30% occupancy for August – “it’s not huge but it certainly is a start.”
The family-owned property is very spread out, with 700-feet of beach, described Mais, allowing for an easy transition to a socially distant environment. There’s so much space, in fact, the palapas are spread out by 60 feet.
“The experience might be a little different, but I think it made it even better,” Mais said, like less seating in the restaurants and reservations. “Things like that are going to improve experience overall.”
While guests will be required to wear masks while moving around the resort, like between rooms and the beach, they can take it off once they get to their destination.
Other resorts that have been approved as COVID compliant include major all-inclusive properties such as RIU Reggae and Ocho Rios, Moon Palace Jamaica, and Beaches Negril.